MOVIE REVIEW- One-joke wonder: Will 'Norbit' kill 'Dreamgirl' buzz?
The one joke in Norbit, Eddie Murphy's new comedy that grossed some $33 million last weeeknd, is a tired one: Murphy plays a large woman, as he did in two Nutty Professor movies, Martin Lawrence did in two Big Momma movies, and Tyler Perry did in two Madea movies. It's not funny this time, with a witless script and the cheap production values of a bad TV movie.
Although Norbit is the name of a character, the fact that it includes the word "orbit" triggers unpleasant memories of one of Murphy's worst previous movies, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, an unfunny comedy set in outer space.
Abandoned and raised in a combination Chinese restaurant and orphanage, Norbit loves Kate, but she's adopted when they're nine, and he's left to be dominated by Rasputia, whom he marries when they're old enough. Then they're both played by Murphy, as is Mr. Wong, the Golden Wonton owner.
Playing multiple roles allows Murphy to accede to the requests of his critics by screwing himself, perhaps a record number of times for a PG-13 movie.
Rasputia has three brothers (Terry Crews, Clifton Powell, Lester "Rasta" Speight), who run a protection racket and are also protective of their sister. She's quite capable of protecting herself against her timid husband, but they still warn him not to hurt her, or "I'm comin' after you with razor blades and lemon juice." She hurts him instead, cheating openly with Buster (Marlon Wayans), her "tap dance guru."
Kate (Thandie Newton, a brilliant actress Hollywood underuses shamefully) comes back into Norbit's life, but she's engaged to Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who's involved in shady dealings with Rasputia's criminal brothers– something about buying the orphanage and turning it into a "ti**y bar."
Also in the cast is Eddie Griffin, who may finally have resigned himself to supporting Eddie Murphy instead of trying to be Eddie Murphy and coming off as a second-rate Martin Lawrence. He and Katt Williams play semi-retired pimps who run a rib joint.
Director Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) was last represented by the remake of The Shaggy Dog, which turned out surprisingly well and really looks like a masterpiece compared to this atrocity. From the retro backlot sets that represent Boiling Springs, Tennessee, to bit players who can't deliver their single lines convincingly, Norbit is an utter waste of time and celluloid.
Murphy isn't to blame. He does what he does well enough and the makeup does the rest, but the material isn't there. Of course he didn't realize when he made this what his personal best performance in Dreamgirls would do for his career, but if enough Academy voters see or even hear about Norbit before they vote, it could cost him the Oscar that seemed his for the taking.