Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:36 - Released 8/16/02

Its release delayed for nearly two years, The Adventures Of Pluto Nash marks another mediocre notch in Eddie Murphy's spotty career. Having participated in such enjoyable recent films as Life, Bowfinger, and Shrek, and such unfunny misfires as Dr. Dolittle 2 and Showtime, Murphy continues the search for a vehicle that will heat up the box-office cash registers and put his name back on top of Hollywood's most wanted list. While Pluto Nash, a futuristic comedy about a night club owner on the moon, is reasonably diverting and full of interesting visual effects (reportedly part of the reason for its delay), it's not going to do that. Its story, penned by Neil Cuthbert (Mystery Men), is overcomplicated, and its director, Ron Underwood (City Slickers), can't seem to decide whether he wants it to be a crime thriller with humor or a knee-slapping comedy with crime. Murphy's performance as the title character is well-rehearsed (in the sense that he's done this schtick before), but lacks energy, and of his co-stars, Rosario Dawson isn't given much to do except look good in a space suit and Randy Quaid doesn't seem to get most of the jokes he's saying.

The year is 2087. The most successful and well-known night club owner in "Little America" (a moon-based colony under glass), former-smuggler-turned-good Pluto Nash is perfectly happy to run his place without the recently legalized addition of casino gambling. But infamous organized crime lord Rex Carter has sent his goons to make him an offer he can't refuse: $1 million for the place—or else. When Pluto declines, he winds up on the receiving end of an after-hours bombing (which, surprisingly, does not cause a decompression), and although he, his new waitress Dina (Dawson) and his faithful but outdated robot Bruno (Quaid) are not injured, the club is a total loss. Pluto soon finds, however, that it is not his livelihood but his life that is in danger, as the goons return and attempt to rub him out. Against the wishes of his mother (Pam Grier), who wants him to return to Earth, Pluto takes Dina and Bruno and pursues his pursuers, attempting to get to the bottom of their murderous intentions. In so doing, he uncovers a surprising revelation about the villain's identity and must use every trick available to stay alive.

There is no doubt that the effects are the most interesting thing about this movie. It's so full of colorful imagery and digital effects, it's practically a cartoon. Murphy's participation is that of a man who's been around the Hollywood comedy mill a few times; he seems to be going through the motions as if he's tired of doing comedy that doesn't involve massive make-up jobs or multiple characterizations. Randy Quaid is surprisingly unfunny in his silly role, and his character has a sub-plot that never fully resolves itself. Adding a modicum of humor is John Cleese as a holographic chauffeur; his characterization is identical to almost all the post-Monty Python movie roles he's done, but it's still funny. Also on hand is a surprising number of semi-known actors in smaller roles, including Jay Mohr as a Tony Bennett-style lounge singer, James Rebhorn as the villain's henchman, and Illeana Douglas as a futuristic body-makeover artist.

While Pluto Nash is not going to launch Eddie Murphy's career back into outer space, it at least keeps his name in the orbit of public awareness. ***

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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