ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So Why Did "Meet Dave" Flop?

I was going to do a piece on this the other day, and then the LA Times had an article yesterday that touched on a few things as well, including the fact that the head of Fox hates sci-fi comedies (he thinks they always bomb, never mind "Men In Black"). He was the one who wanted that aspect downplayed in the advertising, despite the fact that that's the hook here, which was a fatal mistake.

I read this script in December, 2004 (when it was called "Starship Dave" -- a much better title -- and here's an except from my comments:

"
STARSHIP DAVE is takes a very high-concept idea - tiny humanoid aliens come to Earth in a spaceship disguised as a man, and wind up wooing a human woman - and generally does a good job finding the laughs in it. Though the story is a bit thin at times, screenwriters Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett have a lot of fun with the fish-out-of-water elements of the tale, the conflicting personalities of the alien crew and the awkwardly funny central romance add a lot, while the premise offers a lot of slapstick opportunities for a good comic actor. The result could use some punching up of the plot and some of the laughs, but there is a lot to like here, and there is a commercial film in the material."

And I stand by that -- it is a commercial idea, and it could have been a funny movie. And though the movie is apparently on the low side of mediocre, I don't think it was the mostly-bad reviews that did it in; they certainly didn't hurt Norbit. So what then?

THEY SOLD IT POORLY. The concept of the script really is a funny one, about these little people in a spaceship disguised as a man, trying to figure out how to interact with the world. But there was little sense of this in the advertising, which just sort of offered up a vague sense of the movie, without anything to make one want to check it out. A concern that spins into --

IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE A FAMILY MOVIE. But the problem with this is that there's nothing in the commercials that really screams "This is for kids", and families are reluctant to take kids to movies if they don't have a really good sense of what they are going to be about. An Eddie Murphy movie like "Daddy Day Care" was a hit because they made it very clear in the commercials that it was going to be a goofy slapstick family comedy with men fumbling with little kids and some parenthood messages in it. Box office.

IT DIDN'T LOOK ALL THAT FUNNY. This is another offshoot of not selling it right. The script I read was full of amusing little ideas, but the main thing that one takes away from the commercials is Eddie Murphy eating a lot of hotdogs, while a guy in his mouth ducks. Sort of dumb, and not particularly funny.

MAKING A GOOD MOVIE PROBABLY WOULD HAVE HELPED. At least with word of mouth, and making this catch on. And with providing fodder for funnier commercials. Though I'm not sure where they went wrong with the movie, other than to say that Eddie Murphy's recent non-track-record for making funny movies is becoming an increasing sign that his attachment to a film isn't making the movies better, and may be making them worse.

EDDIE MURPHY NO LONGER HAS A BUILT-IN AUDIENCE. This is also a key thing. Eddie Murphy was once an edgy, R-rated guy; now he makes dumb comedies for family audiences. And these movies succeed or fail entirely based on whether or not the movie has a high concept -- it's not because he's starring in it, it's not even really how well they are executed, it's whether or not it looks like a possible fun time at the movies. And though they could have made this look like a fun time at the movies, they forgot to do that.

Don't underestimate the lure of the fun time at the movies. That's one reason Hellboy 2 outdrew this 7-to-1 opening weekend; even though Hellboy 2 is a big comic-book movie, its commercials were funnier than Meet Dave's ever were.

6 Comments:

At 12:03 PM, Blogger deepstructure said...

the key for me here was the trailer. it was not only not funny, but felt...mean. i really got the impression that eddie (not dave) was just a mean person making fun of people to try and get a laugh. and perhaps it's just me, but i wondered if some whiteys might take offense at the black guy making fun of white boy segment.

and i have to disagree with this:

"The concept of the script really is a funny one, about these little people in a spaceship disguised as a man, trying to figure out how to interact with the world."

that's such a hackneyed and over-used idea - and i'm speaking specifically of the alien-on-earth fish-out-of-water story. if you're going to use as flat and uninspired an idea as this it better be damn good. it was very clear from the trailers that this wasn't the case.

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger James said...

Couldn't agree more.

I think the trailers, as of late, have really been missing the mark, in terms of the audience they are striving to hit.

They don't answer the question: "Why should I go see this?"

The weird thing is -- we are living in a time when some really, really, REALLY good trailer editors are out there.

Just go on YouTube and look up some of the better genre-bending re-cut trailers and you'll see...

This new breed of editor really can cut whatever tone is needed, despite a lack of footage for a particular genre.

I also think that audiences are much more savvy than they have ever been. When a trailer doesn't have any story in it, your average audience member knows it -- and will act accordingly, by not going to see the movie.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

James -- Well, and let's face it, with the economy going the way it is, people are going to be getting choosy enough that if you don't give them a reason to go they definitely won't.

Deep -- Trust me, there was a good movie lurking in the script I read. I haven't seen Meet Dave, so I don't know how much they changed, but they apparently didn't come close to realizing the potential in the premise.

 
At 8:27 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Great points, Scott. And I totally agree with you, the high concept of "Meet Dave" is a very funny one. It's just the film doesn't maximize this premise; they should have listened to/heeded your coverage.

"... the premise offers a lot of slapstick opportunities for a good comic actor." Spot on, Tiger, I concur! Having seen "Meet Dave" I can see why it's a flop. All it really has working for it is Eddie Murphy's BRILLIANT acting as that human spaceship's "Dave Chin-ming."

The crew inside space ship Dave was very flat. The officer/closet queer was cliche and totally unfunny. And the walk-in from "The Office" needed to be rewritten, as he was nowhere even close to the hillarious character he is in "The Office."

"Meet Dave" had SO MUCH potential:

1. Love interest between Eddie Muphy and his #3, (the one who looked like Janet Jackson)

2. Love triangle between Eddie Murphy, "Beth" from "40 Year Old Virgin" and the good looking male tennant.

3. Crew spoofs off "Star Trek" characters.

4. Boy in high school coming of age should have been stronger.

Overall I think its the writing, which really failed "Meet Dave." This is the kind of script that I think would have benefited from a bunch of scribes writing their versions THEN have a creative executive step in and pick-out what works, and closely monitors a finishing scribe to fuse all working elements together for a master, kick-ass draft.

GREAT post, Scott. You really do have a lot of great ideas about what makes/breaks movies. You should be PAID to be in developement. I think you have a very good sense about what works and what doesn't.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

 
At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

EC, did you see Meet Dave with your mother? Or did you have to sneak out to see it because she didn't approve?

 
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