THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH"

I first saw the preview for The Adventures of Pluto Nash in late 2000. At the time, the film was slated for release in the spring of 2001. Then it disappeared from the radar. In the interim, star Eddie Murphy appeared in Shrek, Dr. Dolittle 2, and Showtime. About six weeks ago, I saw the Pluto Nash trailer again. It still trumpeted that the movie was coming in April 2001. It's always fishy when you see what it is obviously an old trailer. In actuality, Warner Brothers Pictures - after sitting the film on a shelf for a year and a half - dropped Pluto Nash into a mid-August slot with minimal advertising and no promotion from Murphy. They also chose not to screen it in advance for critics. This inevitably means one thing: they know they've got a bomb on their hands. With a rumored cost of between $90 - 100 million, the movie opened to a piddly $2 million take. Bad signs all around.


Rosario Dawson, Randy Quaid, and Eddie Murphy go on an interstellar ride in The Adventures of Pluto Nash
 
The story is set about 80 years in the future. Part of the moon has been colonized and is now known as "Little America." Murphy, of course, plays Pluto Nash, a nightclub owner who resists a $10 million offer for his property. The prospective buyer is a mystery man known as Rex Crater. No one has ever seen Crater personally, but he is known to be a ruthless developer who wants to turn the moon into a giant casino. Nash tells Crater's henchman Mogan (Joe Pantoliano) that he has no intention of selling. Moments afterward, his club is blown to pieces. He knows that he must confront Crater personally, so he sets off to find the man. Offering help are an aspiring singer/waitress named Dina (Rosario Dawson) and a robot bodyguard called Bruno (Randy Quaid). Meanwhile, Crater's men try to assassinate Nash for failing to give them the club.

That's not a very interesting story, which is one of the problems with Pluto Nash. It never really goes anywhere, nor does it amount to anything in the end. It's one of those movies where all the characters are running around trying to find one another. Different people have the upper hand at different times, and who's on top is always subject to change. There's an attempt at a surprise ending, but it doesn't quite work because the set-up has been so sloppily handled.

I think the plot might have been intentionally vague, though. You can feel this movie going for that Buckaroo Banzai type of quirkiness. Someone obviously had an offbeat concept about a nightclub owner on the moon dealing with a local mafioso. That same person probably thought that if the screen was filled with enough outrageous characters (like that robotic bodyguard) the quirkiness would somehow propel the movie forward. And so we also get an Italian lunar crooner (Jay Mohr), a Hispanic contraband smuggler (Luis Guzman), a cross-eyed hit man, and more. The thing is, quirkiness is really hard to do. It either works like a charm or it falls on its face. Too many quirks (or poorly conceived quirks) come off stupidly. Pluto Nash seems forced in this respect, like someone randomly made this stuff up without really thinking it through to see if it was funny.

A perfect example is the whole thing with Bruno. There are constant references to him being an outdated model. The idea isn't all that humorous to begin with, so the fact that the script keeps milking the joke just adds to the problem. It doesn't help that Randy Quaid gives a performance that can only be called bizarre. Believe me, there's no way I can accurately describe it to you. It's just one of the strangest pieces of acting I've ever seen. I guess no one told him how ridiculous he looked.

As if the flawed quirkiness didn't add enough baggage to the film, it also becomes painfully obvious that Pluto Nash has been collecting dust on a shelf. Many of the jokes here are incredibly stale. There's a running gag about moon money, which has a picture of Hillary Clinton on the bills. One character makes a crack about meeting "at the corner of 4th and Microsoft." And a billboard announces the development of a housing development called "Trump Estates." These references are not exactly cutting edge anymore. I laughed once during the movie, at a clever scene in which Pluto and Dina go to a body reshaping clinic, and I chuckled a few times. Mostly, I just noticed the empty spaces where big laughs and/or fresh jokes would have been welcome.

I see that my remarks have been largely critical. Perhaps that is rightfully so. However, I do want to make it clear that The Adventures of Pluto Nash had its moments for me. The special effects showing a futuristic moon colony are fun, and the A-list cast is hard to dislike. Also, for better or worse, the movie's attempts at quirkiness were at least interesting failures. I'm always kind of compelled by weirdness, which this film has in spades. The bottom line is that there have been worse comedies this year (The Master of Disguise, Van Wilder, The New Guy). This one doesn't work, but it works better than them. I read an article which stated that Pluto Nash instantly takes its place beside eternal turkeys like Ishtar, Howard the Duck, and Battlefield: Earth. Despite the long shelf time and the staggering amount of money lost, this is not one of the all-time cinematic disasters.

Hey, Warner Brothers - quote that in one of your ads!

( out of four)


The Adventures of Pluto Nash is rated PG-13 for violence, sexual humor and language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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