Norbit (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Now begins a period of prayer for Eddie Murphy - he must pray that no one who can cast a Best Supporting Actor vote in the 2007 Oscar race will see Norbit, because no one in their right mind could think of providing an honor to anyone involved in this misfire, Murphy included. All the goodwill built up for the actor as a result of Dreamgirls is cast aside by Norbit. The movie combines with Hannibal Rising to form an odd configuration on their shared opening weekend: Hannibal Rising is a horror movie that's unintentionally comedic and Norbit is a comedy that's unintentionally horrifying. (Its mere existence is enough to cause that reaction.)

Norbit takes the idea behind The Nutty Professor 2 - that Eddie Murphy can play just about every character in the movie - and strips it of all charm and humor. This movie belongs to the much-loved sub-genre of comedies called "unfunny." It's crass, cruel, and borderline offensive, but the laughs that could redeem all of that are missing. Material as bad as the tripe that comprises Norbit can be endured only if there's a payoff. In this case, the point seems to be that some actors will do anything for a buck.

Norbit (Eddie Murphy) is a skinny, geeky guy who, after a lifelong search, finds his perfect mate in the person of Kate (Thandie Newton), his best friend from the orphanage where they both lived as children. Years ago, Kate moved away but now she has returned with the goal of buying the orphanage from elderly Mr. Wong (Murphy again). Two things stand in the way of Norbit and Kate finding happiness together: Kate's fiancé, Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.), and Norbit's wife, Rasputia (Murphy the third). Rasputia is a particularly imposing impediment. Not only is she the size of a gorilla (with none of the charm or the manners) but she has three intimidating brothers. They want the orphanage so they can turn it into a strip club.

Murphy doesn't do any acting in Norbit. This is all shtick - the kind of stuff that might work in a five-minute skit on Saturday Night Live. Norbit is a supersized version of Steve Urkel. Rasputia is Big Momma with bigger boobs. And Mr. Wong is a politically incorrect caricature of a racist Asian. At least the movie has Thandie Newton. This isn't a film she'll highlight on her resume, but for anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck watching Norbit, she is easy on the eyes. Newton has always been a lovely actress with talent to match her looks, but she may have never looked better on screen than in Norbit. And, as for Cuba Gooding Jr. - who would have thought he could have uncovered a movie worse than Boat Trip in which to appear?

Norbit operates on the principle that vulgarity is automatically funny. Crassness doesn't need a joke attached because it is (in and of itself) the height of hilarity. The very sight of Eddie Murphy simultaneously in drag and a fat suit is supposed to cause viewers to explode into paroxysms of laughter, and is topped only by his appearance in yellow-face as old Mr. Wong. Some of the most egregiously awful jokes fail so badly the first time (broken bed sex, Rasputia crammed into her compact car) that they're brought back for encores. In one way, it's surprising that the movie is so consistently unfunny. One would assume director Brian Robbins knows a thing or two about humor. After all, he directed that pinnacle of comedic excellence, The Shaggy Dog. Need I say more?

Norbit (United States, 2007)

Director: Brian Robbins
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Terry Crews, Clifton Powell, Lester "Rasta" Speight, Cuba Gooding Jr
Screenplay: Jay Scherick & David Ronn
Cinematography: J. Clark Mathis
Music: David Newman
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2007-02-09
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1