Eddie Murphy is destined to receive a lot of flack for "Norbit," and it's a case of bad timing that will seal this fate. Having just received his first Oscar nomination for his against-type dramatic work in 2006's "Dreamgirls
," Murphy hasn't even made it to the awards ceremony and already he has resorted back to his old ways of juvenile slapstick and thunderous flatulence. No one who has watched his career slide into a rut of disposable kid pics will argue that he shows a preference for vast wealth over the craft of acting, but I would also venture to proclaim that his multiple performances in "Norbit" are every bit as demanding as his one in "Dreamgirls
." If nothing else, Murphy shows off impressive range as he digs into a trio of diverse roles while disappearing behind copious makeup and latex. He gives the film his all, but the low-rent jokes and idiotic plotting outweigh Murphy's own eager-to-please commitment.
Since the age of nine, meek orphaned doormat Norbit (Eddie Murphy) has willingly become the property of the gargantuan Rasputia (Eddie Murphy), a domineering monster of a woman who lords over his life. Now adults, Rasputia's personal claim of Norbit has not changed one bit, leaving Norbit miserable but unable to get out of the sticky place he has found himself in. For a moment, Norbit finally grows the courage to stand up to Rasputia when he catches her cheating on him with her gym instructor (Marlon Wayans), but like a fish caught on a hook, he keeps getting reeled back into misery. The unexpected return to town of Norbit's childhood best friend Kate (Thandie Newton) reawakens the true feelings he has always had for her, but with Kate engaged to be married to Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and Rasputia determined to destroy all happiness from Norbit's existence, chances appear slim that these two soul mates will ever consummate what is meant to be.
"Norbit" was directed by Brian Robbins (2006's "The Shaggy Dog
") and written by Eddie Murphy, brother Charles Murphy, and Jay Scherick & David Ronn (2005's "Guess Who
"). With so many people having a hand at whipping into shape an intentionally lowbrow would-be laugh riot, it is disappointing to find a comedy that is funny only on occasion and done in by exceedingly chaotic and intelligence-insulting story developments. Over half of the movie's gags relate to Rasputia's hefty size and weight; some of the fat jokes actually work in a tasteless sort of way, as in the recurring scenes where she plows like a Mack truck through anything that gets in her way and doesn't bat an eyelash, but when that is all a comedy has to offer, it should raise a red flag for the filmmakers.
As with any flawed cinematic plotting that could be solved in five minutes if the characters were only written with a fraction of the average human being's IQ, "Norbit" drags out to great lengths as muddled motivations and stock conflicts take over. The burgeoning reconnection of something romantic between Norbit and Kate is acceptable but bland, and the sparks between them are few and far between. With Norbit acting like a mentally disabled man most of the time and Kate's tendency of speaking down to him as if he were a child, their relationship isn't that different from a hospital patient and a candystriper. Adding complications to the fold, of course, is Kate's slimy fiancé (Cuba Gooding, Jr. in a nothing part), who wants to marry her so he can snatch away her dream of taking over the reigns of an orphanage, and, instead, open up a strip club called Nipplopolis.
Kate is about as dumb as they get, not sensing what is going on under her nose even when the truth is spelled out for her. Seeing Thandie Newton (2006's "The Pursuit of Happyness
") in a project lighter than her usual doom-and-gloom roles is nice, but she oversells her character's sweetness and really does seem condescending in the slow, measured way she speaks to Norbit. As Norbit, Eddie Murphy is endearing in his lack of confidence and likable as he learns to get a backbone. His turn as the film's hero is in great contrast to his tour de force
act as the tyrannical and abusive Rasputia (her name is as clever and subtle as the movie gets). The vain, violent, despicable Rasputia is the main antagonist, but she is also the most entertaining character, and it is as this beastly creation that Murphy sets off the majority of comic dynamite.
In terms of quality, "Norbit" lands in the middle between the light pleasures of 1996's "The Nutty Professor" and 2000's "Big Momma's House
," and the insipid inferiority of 2000's "The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps
" and 2006's "Big Momma's House 2
." With those discouraging rankings, a sequel to "Norbit" could prove fatal. On its own, however, the film is tolerable for Eddie Murphy's go-getter energy and the humorous moments he ekes out of the material. It's unfortunateand frustratingthat the moronic turns in the script are too plentiful to forgive, though. Murphy may be at the top of his game, but "Norbit" is stuck on autopilot.