February 15, 2007

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Norbit (PG-13)
Eddie Murphy can not leave well enough (near-universal praise for his role in Dreamgirls) alone and thus assaults the movie-going public with Norbit, a mish-mash of crude caricatures and latex that, despite being labeled as a comedy, is studiously unfunny.

Dude, you are thisclose to an Oscar. What are you doing?

Norbit (Murphy as an adult) is an orphan raised with occasional supervision by Mr. Wong (Murphy; not Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s but there are hints), the Chinese purveyor of a restaurant/orphanage. As a young boy, Norbit makes one friend in Kate (Thandie Newton as an adult) a sweet, supportive girl who is eventually adopted. As Norbit gets older, he makes only one additional friend — Rasputia (Murphy). Something of a bully, she protects the giant-glasses-wearing nerd that is Norbit. She has three thug-like brothers who nonetheless dote on her and, despite their crudeness and strong-arming, they give Norbit his first taste, however sour, of a real family.

Feeling pressured to keep this family, Norbit marries Rasputia, who is fat. Not just fat but hugely fat, horribly mean and bullying and gluttonous and cruel. But also fat; fat is the physical manifestation of all her other malevolent qualities. At every turn in their life together Norbit is pushed around and dominated by Rasputia (yes, also like that) and, with a near-saint-like patience, he puts up with all her poor treatment and her enormous fatness.

O, woe is him, for the fatness is a mighty burden. (Sarcasm is lost on this movie but Norbit almost makes its villain sympathetic with its exaggerated scorn for her girth.)

Norbit finally decides he’s had enough of Rasputia when he catches her cheating on him. He’s further disenchanted when he runs into Kate. She’s returned in hopes of buying the orphanage. Norbit suddenly sees a fantasy future full of raising the kids and marriage to Kate. But how to get rid of Rasputia and her brothers? And what about Kate’s suspicious fiancé (Cuba Gooding Jr.)?

The problems with this movie are many and huge, huge like the latex witch that Murphy has created to play this movie’s villain. The fat suit quickly degenerates into an excuse to make childish and weak fat jokes that would seem played out and unoriginal on the playground from which they were surely stolen. About Mr. Wong, the less said the better. Murphy’s central performance as Norbit is, however, strangest of all. There is something vaguely Billy Crystal about Norbit — some mix of the strange voice Crystal did in that scene with Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally… and the bitter sorcerer he played in The Princess Bride. It’s nonsensical and odd. Again, Eddie Murphy, I ask, what are you doing?

The movie is a mess, from the characters Murphy plays to the unnecessarily jumbled plot to the embarrassing roles for the supporting characters (oh, Cuba Gooding Jr., please, stop doing this to yourself). Worst of all, it is not funny. It whines, it brays, it throws hissy fits and it capers but it doesn’t ever make you laugh. D-

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some nudity and language. Directed by Brian Robbins and written by Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Eddie Murphy and Charles Murphy, Norbit is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by DreamWorks SKG.