“Norbit”, the new film starring Eddie Murphy as three different characters, is a sad movie. Sad for a number of reasons, but let’s pick just three, one for every hundred pounds of Rasputia’s weight…
Okay, they do, but once they reach this pinnacle, they are supposed to look for smarter projects, projects that will continue to push them in new and better directions. I can’t honestly imagine the ads and trailers for “Norbit 2” (If you don’t think there will be a sequel, you’re kidding yourself) touting “Academy Award Winner Eddie Murphy”. Let’s give Murphy the benefit of the doubt. This film was made before he began to receive all of the critical praise for his role as James “Thunder” Early in “Dreamgirls”. Yeah, that’s it. Well, that explains why he would make this throwback to his broad comedy days, but it doesn’t explain why the film is so bad. Murphy following up his Academy Award nominated performance with this piece of trash is like Cuba Gooding Jr. following up his Academy Award winning performance in “Jerry Maguire” with “Boat Trip” or “Norbit”. Yes, Gooding Jr. plays a small, completely inconsequential role in “Norbit”.
In both, he plays a number of characters under heavy make-up. In both, he plays severely overweight people. In both, he plays characters that interact with one another. But “Nutty Professor” was different; it was actually funny and the humor wasn’t derived completely from one source.
Norbit (who will grow up to be Murphy), a young, nerdy orphan who resembles Rodney Allen Rippey more than a little, is abandoned at a Chinese Restaurant slash Orphanage. There, he grows up with the strange, but sweet Mr. Wong (Murphy again) and his wife. One day, a beautiful young girl, Kate (who will grow up to be Thandie Newton) arrives and she and Norbit have a budding romance until Kate is adopted and taken away. An overweight girl named Rasputia (who will grow up to be Murphy in a very large fat suit) arrives at the playground and claims Norbit for her own. As they grow up, they continue to date and eventually get married. But Rasputia becomes bored with Norbit and he catches her cheating. Norbit is too easy to manipulate, so won’t let him out of the marriage. One day, Kate returns to town to buy the orphanage and would like Norbit’s help running it, maybe even hopes to rekindle their relationship. But Rasputia’s brothers, muscle bound “protection” enforcers, also want the orphanage and try to persuade Deion (Gooding, Jr.), Kate’s fiancée, to help.
Directed by Brian Robbins, whose previous work includes a lot of television and films like “Varsity Blues”, directs “Norbit” with a leaden hand. The film begins in a quite, somewhat whimsical way and even offers a few laughs as we watch Norbit get acclimated to the new orphanage and the eccentricities of Mr. Wong. But as soon as the characters become adults, all of the humor is derived from the same one joke premise…
3. Rasputia is really, really fat.
Look at the married couple as they prepare to have sex; Norbit is wearing a costume and Rasputia comes running out of the bathroom in an equally silly costume, landing on top of her husband and the bed before it collapses. The filmmakers were apparently so enamored of this joke; they do it over and over again, providing a montage of different costumes. Later, at a water park, Rasputia is stopped by an employee at the gate to check and see if she is wearing bottoms. See, she is so large… you can’t see the bottoms… without her lifting her huge belly up. Har har har. Later, she slides down the big waterslide like a cannonball shooting through a wooden wall at the end. Isn’t that funny? Look at the ugly, fat woman as she does stupid things. I’m still clutching my sides with laughter.
Now, “Nutty Professor” certainly had some humor directed at obesity, but it had other things to make us laugh as well. “Norbit” has nothing else. Much of the intended humor in this new film is also mean spirited. All of the jokes are either about someone or directed at something about them.
3A. “Norbit” is also sad for yet another reason. It isn’t bad enough to make bad, insulting jokes about fat people, they decide to target everyone.
There are a couple of pimps (Eddie Griffin and Katt Williams) who have whores who work at their rib shack. This is insulting to both blacks and woman. The pimps are based on the worst stereotypes and their treatment of women (and occasional shots of women as they say ‘I want to be a ho’) is just a terrible excuse for comedy. Worse? It isn’t funny. Mr. Wong (also played by Murphy) has a few moments that are funny, mainly because of the outrageous things he says, but these jokes also play of the worse stereotypes of the Asian community.
Thandie Newton plays the required Janet Jackson – like role that seems to be required for films like this. She is very pretty to look at, but she adds nothing to the character and nothing to the film. As soon as she is introduced and we learn the background of the story, it seems almost amazing how little awareness she has of the actions of other characters. She is very pretty to look at, but Kate is a very dumb character.
The one thing the film has going for it is technology. Remember when Hayley Mills played twins? Anytime the twins were having a conversation, we would see one of them from behind, while the other talked. When the conversation switched, so did the camera angle. The technology has advanced so much that we see Norbit and Rasputia on the screen at the same time, talking to one another, interacting, fighting. None of those weird camera angles to hide the use of a body double.
Ultimately, “Norbit” is just an insulting excuse for a comedy.