I’ve been curious about The Adventures of Pluto Nash for over a decade now. It’s widely accepted that Eddie Murphy has been putting in subpar work since at least the late 90s & Pluto Nash seemed to be one of those early signs that his best days were well behind him. With a $100 million budget and a mere $7 million dollar return, the movie was one of the top ten biggest box office flops of all time. While I didn’t expect it to be a particularly great movie, I though it did have potential as a trashy gem (à la Leonard Part 6 or Howard the Duck) because of its sci-fi premise. I suspected that Pluto Nash had potential as a fun bad movie because it was a Bad Movie in Space, which gave it a distinct advantage over the appeal of the Klumps & Norbits of Muprhy’s career. Unfortunately, it instead committed the number one sin in the Bad Movie Bible: it was boring.
When I pictured a Shitty Eddie-Murphy-in-Space Movie with a $100 Million Budget, I naively expected all kinds of goofy adventures featuring Murphy exploring improbable planets & cracking wise at the expense of goofy-looking aliens. Instead, Pluto Nash bottled all of its action on the Earth’s moon and supplanted madcap adventure with run-of-the-mill gunfights & a staggering surplus of jokes about horny robots. Murphy’s Nash is a retired smuggler struggling to run a clean nightclub business where oddly costumed weirdos can line dance to Outkast songs in a futuristic version of doing the robot. His wholesome nightclub is threatened by mafia types who want to turn the moon into a tacky outer space Atlantic City and he risks his life to stop them. The movie could’ve been set on Earth in the present and not lost much in the translation.
In the rare moments when the movie is in full gear the screen is littered with cheap-looking gunfights & car chases crippled with mediocrity. When it slows down Nash literally goes into hiding and essentially watches the Moon’s version of Netflix, which has to be one of the most boring approaches to a space adventure ever conceived. Imagine if The Fifth Element were adapted as a hackneyed UPN sitcom that frivolously wasted its entire budget on huge explosions & cameos that no one asked for and you’d have a pretty good idea of Pluto Nash’s style. Even the movie’s sole set outside on the Moon’s surface is embarrassingly cheap looking, faker than even 1969’s “real” Moon landing.
It’s hard to imagine where the film’s budget went outside the cast (and the gratuitous explosions). The list of supporting players is beyond impressive: B-Movie legend Pam Grier plays Nash’s gun-toting mother; the beautiful Rosario Dawson is his unlikely love interest; Peter Boyle is his partner in crime; Jay Mohr is a pop star that narrowly avoids drinking battery acid; John Cleese is some kind of AI butler. That’s not even including the appearances of Alec Baldwin, James Rebhorn, Joe Pantoliano, Illeana Douglas and Randy Quaid (as the aforementioned horny robot). Unfortunately, this ungodly stockpile of talent is put to waste and everyone seems to be in full paycheck mode. Even Murphy himself is dead weight here, keeping the antics to a minimum & surrounding himself with a script seemingly designed to massage his ego by constantly reminding everyone how awesome he is. The only actor that has any fun with the film is the always-dependable Luis Guzmán, but Guzmán is about as consistent as they come, so it’s a fairly hollow victory.
The Adventures of Pluto Nash is an action comedy that fails both in its action and its comedy. Jokes about Hilary Clinton’s face on future money (har har) and robots desperately trying to get laid (hee hee) aren’t funny the first time around and are downright painful in their repetition. The film even unironically uses a record scratch sound effect to punctuate its action gags, lest the audience forget to laugh. It’s that dire. As I’ve pointed out before in reviews of Exit to Eden & 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s possible for failed comedies or action movies to still be interesting as cultural time capsules or complete train wrecks. There’s a miniscule amount of early 2000’s charm in Pluto Nash’s shoddy rap versions of corny songs like “Blue Moon” & “Dancing in the Moonlight”, its semi-futuristic nightclub attire, and its use of Space Jam-inspired font, but it’s not enough to save the film from its own self-crushing blandness. In this case the schlock is both unfunny and boring, which is a brutal combination for any audience. I should’ve left Pluto Nash where it belongs: forgotten in the past, in hiding on the Moon, watching Moonflix (or whatever) in its pajamas, and trading tired quips with oversexed robots.