Following the tepid "Showtime" and the flat-lined "Dr. Dolittle 2," "Pluto Nash" invokes the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule that, if nothing else, puts Eddie Murphy in underdog status for a third comeback.
Here, Murphy stars as the title character, a former smuggler getting squeezed out by mob forces that want his successful moon-based nightclub. When Pluto refuses to make way for their casino empire, pinstriped thug Morgan (Joe Pantoliano) torches his establishment.
With a price on his head, Pluto drags antiquated robot bodyguard Bruno (Randy Quaid) and aspiring nightclub chanteuse Dina Lake (Rosario Dawson) all over the dark side of the moon, fleeing from, then pursuing mysterious gangster boss Rex Crater.
For all the gunplay and explosions, "Pluto Nash" just kind of floats there, adrift in space. Director Ron Underwood ("Mighty Joe Young") can't quite light the fire under his actors, nor build tension in the chase. And while some of the jokes are clever (such as a pushy, seductive slot machine that pursues its prey), they induce only smirks, and no real belly laughs. It might be the first sci-fi comedy that could benefit from a "Three's Company"-style laugh track.
Cameos from Pam Grier (as Pluto's mom) and John Cleese (as the stuffy computer of a moon car) promise to spice up the plot, but don't. Characters seem to float around, bumping into one another inside the frame. Production Designer Bill Brzeski cannibalizes other futurist films such as "Blade Runner" and pours on a shiny layer of plastic, offering up some ridiculously fashionable space suits.
Murphy himself remains enjoyably understated, cool and even reserved compared to his hyper, star-making turns in "Trading Places" and the excellent "Coming to America." It's commendable for Murphy to tone his persona down, to lose himself inside the manic neon future envisioned in hundreds of sci-fi films. But a down-to-earth Murphy doesn't work on the moon. In the end, he seems just as weightless and vacuous as the rest of the film.
1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
"The Adventures of Pluto Nash"
Directed by Ron Underwood. Stars Eddie Murphy, Randy Quaid, Rosario Dawson, Peter Boyle, Joe Pantoliano and Illeana Douglas.
Robert K. Elder is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times