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.