'Pluto': A Shaggy Dog Story With Fleas

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 17, 2002

They forgot to put something in Eddie Murphy's new film "The Adventures of Pluto Nash." They forgot to put in the entertainment.

The result is something quite rare in professional show business: 1 1/2 hours of pure blankness. It's there but it's not there. It is but it isn't. It has nothing to offer. It's not forgettable, really, because there's nothing to forget.

This is a philosophically different proposition from, and much rarer than, simple badness. A bad movie usually has traces of someone's ideal dream of it inside, and if you try hard, you can begin to understand why somebody thought it would work. "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" lacks that quality entirely; it feels like a comedy some malicious editor cut all the laughs out of, or a thriller in which the same satanic monster deleted all thrills. It's just, you know, random behavior.

The pitch must have been something like this. "See, the hero is a nightclub owner, fighting a mobster who wants to take over his place. But here's the wacky part: It's on the moon!"

If this clown didn't get chucked out of Warners on his ear, then heads should roll. Well, maybe they already have. Evidently, it's been sitting on a shelf for more than a year, and even Murphy himself has voted thumbs down, refusing to do any publicity for it.

Who can blame him? Directed by the underwhelming Ron Underwood, who had a hit in 1990 with "Tremors" and not since, it's extremely lame but that's all right, because it's too long also.

Barely trying, Murphy plays Nash, the nightclub owner in a cheesy "Little America," a moon colony in the year 2087 that bears a shocking resemblance to that big mall in Anne Arundel County. You know the one. Really ugly. Oh, so depressing.

Anyhow, Nash has gangster problems, girlfriend problems, mama problems and, worst of all, robot problems. His android is named Bruno, and he is impersonated gamely by Randy Quaid. I say this with regret, because Quaid is one of those yeomen who never quite become stars but who try hard and generate laughs wherever they are placed. But this is the worst performance by a professional actor I have ever seen in 20 years of full-time moviegoing.

His eyes bulging brightly, his throat tightened like he's just swallowed a guppy, his body language so stiff you suspect someone injected industrial strength pumice into all his joints, his voice childishly modulated, he's a one-man horror show. Someone who takes money for his judgment thought this grotesquerie was funny? Really baffling.

The plot is simplistic, none of the other performers is paying much attention, and the scene in which space cars chase each other through moon canyons has got to be the worst special effects sequence since King Kong's robot mitt picked up Fay Wray in the big monkey picture of 1933.

I could go on, but there's no point to it, since there was never any point to "Pluto Nash" to begin with.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash (90 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for generic violence and sexual language.

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