Plenty of movies have a weak premise but elevate it via brilliant execution. And then there's the occasional film, like Eddie Murphy's Meet Dave, that has a premise so clever that even a completely lackluster execution can't ruin it. The idea of one-inch-aliens traveling to Earth in a human-sized spaceship that looks like their captain is just so rich that no amount of dubious Hollywood talent can ruin it - and believe me, they try. And guess what? There's spoilers in this review!
I went to see Meet Dave with rock-bottom expectations, and found myself sort of enjoying it. It's not exactly funny, per se, but it's fun. (Does that make sense? A comedy can be fun, without actually ever making you laugh.) If your kids want to go see a dumb movie, and you've already seen Wall-E twice, you could do worse than seeing Meet Dave. It's about as good as Murphy's other family-friendly mad-science comedies, the Nutty Professor and Doctor Doolittle.
So. Murphy plays the spaceship as well as its captain. As the ship, he's sort of a funky robot, moving jerkily, especially at first, and acting wooden. There's some pretty decent physical comedy around Murphy learning to move around. And as the captain, he's doing his Coming To America accent and acting silly. There are some cute gags, including Murphy printing counterfeit money with his butt, struggling to understand basic social skills, and winning a hot-dog eating contest with robotic speed. Etc. etc.
The basic storyline is about Murphy's crewmembers going native, so to speak. They're all inhabiting the body of this faux human, and over time they become more and more immersed in human culture. The security officer turns out to be gay and starts snapping his fingers and making the human-sized Murphy dance fabulously. A random black guy on the crew starts talking in a stereotypical hip hop way, and the second in command gets a makeover and becomes beautiful. Etc. etc. The only crewmember who doesn't go native is the second in command, played by The Office's Ed Helms in his least funny role ever. (Seriously, what little funny this movie has dries up completely whenever Helms is on screen. And I've liked him in other stuff.)
I'm pretty sure the original screenplay by MST3K's Bill Corbett had something interesting to say about inhabiting bodies and being disconnected from the body you live in, but that's pretty much gone in the version as filmed by Norbit director Brian Robbins. What's left is some cute gags about little guys in hamster balls operating arm and leg joints, a guy who lives in Eddie Murphy's butt, and the poor guy in a wetsuit who's in Eddie's mouth and gets doused with whatever Eddie swallows. (Sort of like the "sperm" sequence in Woody Allen's Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask.)
The biggest surprise in Dave is that its alien visitors are far from benign: their mission is to launch a golf-ball-sized device that will drain the Earth's oceans to generate a new power source for their dying planet, which runs on salt. (Just roll with it.) Due to their bumbling, they lose this device and have to befriend a widow and her cute son who is (wait for it, wait for it) being bullied, in order to get it back. (I'm actually racking my brains to think of the last scifi movie I saw with a kid who wasn't bullied.) Do you think Dave the extraterrestrial will rekindle the widow's faith in love? And help the kid stand up to those mean bullies? It's like you're clairvoyant!
Anyway, it's your basic fish-out-of-water comedy mixed with your hero-pretending-to-be-someone-else romantic comedy. But let's get back to the little people inside Dave. It's very self-consciously Star Trekky, especially in the early scenes - supposedly Murphy is a huge Trek fan, who's still sad he ended up not being the wacky sidekick in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
There's also a love triangle of sorts. The ship's captain starts having romantic feelings for the widow, Gina (Elizabeth Banks). But meanwhile, his third in command (Gabrielle Union) has the hots for him and starts dressing vampy and showing him Frank Capra movies to win him over. Will he choose the woman who's 1,000 times his size? Or the tiny woman who baked him cookies in the academy and helped him become the space hero he is today? In a way, this subplot is a bit of a broadside against inter-species dating, although it's not made terribly explicit.
So basically, Meet Dave has two great concepts wrapped together: the tiny people being menaced by cats and basketballs and cups of coffee that are gargantuan to them; and the human-looking robot that's full of little people. Either of those concepts alone would make it worth watching at three A.M. with your favorite intoxicant. Together, they may actually make it worth watching in the theater with your favorite intoxicant, if you can smuggle it in or consume it in advance. Probably not a movie you want to watch sober, unless you've got little kids.