Some cynics may expect the worst of another Eddie Murphy vehicle involving extraterrestrials -- insert joke about "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" here -- but that only makes "Meet Dave" all the more pleasant a surprise.

Cynics may expect the worst of another Eddie Murphy vehicle involving extraterrestrials — insert joke about “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” here — but that only makes “Meet Dave” all the more pleasant a surprise. Aimed at the same family audiences that flocked to Murphy’s “Doctor Dolittle” comedies, this lightly amusing and sweet Fox release should score midrange summer B.O. numbers, despite competition from other kidpics in theatrical circulation, and later enjoy a long shelf life as homevid fare.

Dave Ming Chang (Murphy) is a man who falls to Earth and winds up wandering the streets of Manhattan. Decked out in a disco-era white suit, and proceeding with the stiff, sudden movements of a disoriented stork, Dave appears to be the epitome of a fish out of water. But that’s only because he really isn’t a man at all.

Rather, Dave is a spacecraft, meticulously constructed in the image of its tiny Captain (also Murphy), and filled with an entire crew of similarly miniscule space invaders. These strange visitors from the planet Nil arrive with spotty and largely outdated ideas about Earth language and customs. (The white suit? Blame it on the only TV rerun ever to reach Nil.) They’re confused and intrigued by the oddities they encounter — why, for example, do Earthlings amass vast repositories of vital information, then give these invaluable resources such silly names as Google and Yahoo?

But the Captain and his loyal No. 3 (Gabrielle Union, radiant as always) must do a little Googling of their own to complete their mission: finding a missing baseball-sized device that will do something good for their home planet and something very bad to the oceans on Earth. The hunt leads Dave to Gina (Elizabeth Banks), a pretty single mom, and her young son, Josh (Austyn Lind Myers), a bullied grade-schooler in need of a father figure.

“Meet Dave” works best when helmer Brian Robbins, working from a clever script by Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett, uses the f/x trickery relatively sparingly, and allows Murphy to shine as the pic’s most special effect. His gracefully awkward body language in Dave’s early scenes recalls Steve Martin’s herky-jerky hilarity as the spiritually possessed lawyer in “All of Me.”

But even after the man-shaped spaceship adapts to ambulating, Murphy remains amusing as Dave does his best to mimic the expressions and understand the language of Earthlings.

Murphy works in a lower key, but to good effect, as the Captain, a vaguely Brit-accented commander who’s too busy to notice No. 3’s romantic overtures. Love blooms only after they and other Nillians aboard Spaceship Dave are “infected” by the emotional and psychological characteristics of Earthlings. (As a security officer who gets in touch with his inner queen, Pat Kilbane takes the sting out of a swishy caricature through sheer force of uproarious overplaying.)

“Meet Dave” hits a speed bump in the third act when a humorless No. 2 (Ed Helms) wrestles command away from the Captain, leading to a sequence that involves bright lights, loud explosions and f/x flash. It seems entirely out of keeping with the rest of the pic, but fortunately, it doesn’t last long.

Production values are first-rate. But “Meet Dave” demonstrates the benefits of emphasizing a human touch over hardware when it comes to funny business.

Meet Dave

Production

A 20th Century Fox release, presented with Regency Enterprises, of a Friendly Films/Guy Walks Into a Bar production. Produced by Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki, David T. Friendly. Executive producers, Arnon Milchan, Thomas M. Hammel. Directed by Brian Robbins. Screenplay, Rob Greenberg, Bill Corbett.

Crew

Camera (color), Clark Mathis; editor, Ned Bastille; music, John Debney; production designer, Clay A. Griffith; art director, Beat Frutiger; set designers, Aric Cheng, Lori Rowbotham Grant, Pamela Klamer, Rich Romig; set decorator, Robert Greenfield; costume designer, Ruth Carter; sound (Dolby), Richard Bryce Goodman; supervising sound editors, John Morris, John A. Larsen; sound designer, Morris; visual effects supervisor, Mark Stetson; visual effects, Hydraulx, CIS-Hollywood; stunt coordinator, Andy Gill; associate producer/assistant director, Lars P. Winther; casting, Joel Bastrop, Seth Yanklewitz. Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, July 9, 2008. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Dave/Captain - Eddie Murphy Gina Morrison - Elizabeth Banks No. 3 - Gabrielle Union Dooley - Scott Caan No. 2 - Ed Helms No. 17 - Kevin Hart Knox - Mike O'Malley No. 4 - Pat Kilbane Josh Morrison - Austyn Lind Myers

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