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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Norbit

If Eddie Murphy had only asked me. Nobody pays any attention to me, but if they did, and in this case “they” was Eddie, then I’d have told him to at least wait until the voting for the Academy Awards was over before I let Dreamworks unleash this nightmare on the public. What were they thinking? Here is Murphy, after 25 years in the business, finally receiving some legit recognition and accolades for his terrific job as James “Thunder” Early, the 1950s’ faux rock and roll legend that plays a crucial role in the popular Dreamgirls, still out right now. Eddie has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Dreamgirls, but if any Academy members see this before filling out their ballots (due next week) there is no way in Hell anybody would hand him a vote for anything except Biggest Dope This Side of David Arquette in the American Cinema Right Now. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Eddie is an addict. He can’t stay away from the latex, and it shows. Ever since The Nutty Professor, Murphy always seems ready to pick up the rubber appliances and create his characters from the ice cube tray-like molds on out. In
Norbit, he plays the title character, a man of slight build and no cojones, who is the mousey husband of Rasputia (also Murphy in a fat suit), a seven or eight hundred pound monster of a woman who has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Rasputia is a beast, pure and simple. She is narcissistic, jealous, possessive, insensitive, arrogant, slovenly, greedy, and most of all just downright mean and vicious. She has the temperament of a pit-bull with a toothache and it shows. She blames every small problem, including her ever expanding size, on Norbit, going so far as to insist that he is somehow shrinking her car to make it harder for her to fit her over-ample bosom behind the steering wheel. Why Norbit would have ever married Rasputia borders on science fiction. Other than his inherent inability to stand up for himself, there is no real reason to believe he ever loved her.

Instead, he pines for his childhood girlfriend Kate (Thandie Newton;
The Pursuit of Happyness), with whom he spent his formative years at the local orphanage before she was adopted, thus leaving him feeling abandoned and lonely until Rasputia swooped into his life and dominated it. Still, his one true love was and always will be Kate, and so the stretched-thinner-than-Carmen-Electra’s-acting-credentials plot of this seemingly amateur production is all about Norbit’s escape from Rasputia and his winning the hand of the fair maiden, Kate.

Complicating things are Rasputia’s strong-armed brothers Big Jack (Terry Crews: tv’s “Everybody Hates Chris”), Earl (Clifton Powell;
The Gospel), and Blue (Lester "Rasta" Speight; tv’s “My Wife and Kids”), who have a scheme to buy the old orphanage/Chinese restaurant (don’t ask) and turn it into a nightclub called The Nippletarium, which ought to give you an idea of what kind of establishment it is supposed to be. The fact that owner Mr. Wong (Murphy again in Chinese latex drag) refuses to sell to them is only more incentive for the boys to find ways to torment the elderly caretaker and toss around a few more racial stereotypes when there’s nothing better to do. Meanwhile, naturally, Kate has conveniently returned to town after all this time to buy the orphanage herself so that Mr. Wong may retire ad then she plans to maintain it as it is since she remembers the place with love and affection. Just to complicate things further, Kate is now engaged to a guy named Deion Hughes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.; End Game) who is only after her money and is determined to do whatever best plays out in his best interest, meaning that if he has anything to do with it there will be cash in his pockets and no orphans’ home in Kate’s. Throw in a couple of wayward pimps named Pope Sweet Jesus (Eddie Griffin; Date Movie) and Lord Have Mercy (Katt Williams; Epic Movie) for absolutely no reason except that the actors must be friends of Murphy and the whole thing plays like a redneck version of “Days of our Lives.”

The cruelest twist is the inclusion of Cuba Gooding, Jr. in this stinkfest, who was obviously cast long before Dreamgirls was released. How many people remember that before his piddling little throwaway role here he won the Best Supporting Actor statuette at the Academy Awards back in 1996 for Jerry Maguire? He followed that up with his own Norbit, the god-awful Boat Trip, a move that sunk his career and put him in the same category with other “accidental” Oscar winners Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino. Now his presence is like a gloomy cloud foreshadowing just how far down the Hollywood food chain Eddie may be headed if he doesn’t look for better scripts than this steamer.

Okay, so there are laughs, but they are as few and far between as what you find these days in a fourth or fifth ordered “Saturday Night Live” skit, the one
that comes on just before the show whimpers off at 1:00 a.m. The jokes you may have seen in the theatrical trailer or television advertisement are pretty much the gist of the movie’s best, with only the “PG-13” additions added in, and these are all at the expense of people’s shortcomings. Two hours of fat gags get old after the first ten or so. The same with the lame race references and the on-going fart jokes. Sure, the kids will laugh and leave thinking they’ve seen something brilliantly hysterical. Maybe that’s the first sign of the apocalypse.

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