© 2007 Ray Wong
Eddie Murphy seems to be having a good time these days, first basking in his Dreamgirls glory (as a Golden Globe winner and an Oscar front-runner), and now having another number one movie in the box office. It doesn't mean everything he touches is indeed gold. Norbit, as funny as it may be, is still a recycled fluff if you look closely.
Norbit (Murphy) is an orphan who is raised by Mr. Wong (also Murphy), a Chinese man who dreams of retiring and whale hunting some day. Norbit is shy, kind-hearted, and meek, and he has a close friendship with Kate (Newton) until she gets adopted and moves to Atlanta. Norbit yearns to have a family of his own. When a big, mean girl, Rasputia (also Murphy), lays eyes on Norbit and takes him into her family, Norbit latches on to it without knowing what he's getting into. Rasputia's brothers warn Norbit never to break her heart. All grown up, Norbit reluctantly marries Rasputia and settles in a dysfunctional marriage.
Years later, Kate returns in an effort to take over the orphanage as Mr. Wong is ready to retire. Norbit realizes he really loves Kate and is stuck in a loveless marriage with Rasputia. Unfortunately, Kate is engaged to handsome Deion (Gooding). Soon Norbit discovers that Deion is a con artist, and he's working with Rasputia's brothers to scam Kate and turn Mr. Wong's orphanage into a strip joint. Norbit must warn Kate while fighting off Rasputia's abuse. He must learn to become a man.
Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) is a true chameleon, and he's back with his old tricks playing multiple, different roles with the help of makeup and body suits. As Norbit, he succeeds in giving us a shy and meek hero who is, truthfully, frustratingly weak. For most of the movie, we just want to shake him and tell him to do something already. Eddie Murphy compensates by playing two stronger, thus more memorable, characters. As Mr. Wong, he is hysterically racist but wise, showing some true kindness toward Norbit. As Rasputia, he goes all out, giving us one of the grossest, most stereotypical yet hilarious comical characters.
Thandie Newton (The Pursuit of Happyness) is cute and sweet as the object of Norbit's affection. Of course, her character reinforces the stereotype, thus serving as a reminder of how offensive this film can be. Terry Crews (Click), Clifton Powell (Day Break), and Mighty Rasta (Prison Break) play Rasputia's three thuggish brothers with broad humor. Cuba Gooding Jr. (End Game) is rather bland as the scheming boyfriend. Eddie Griffin (Date Movie) and Katt Williams (Epic Movie) have some fun as Norbit's friends.
The script by Eddie Murphy et el. isn't the best thing in the world. There are, of course, a lot of plot holes and inconsistency. And the jokes are all based on stereotypes, which may seem offensive to everyone from ethnic minorities to overweight people. But the writers keep the jokes coming and the story moving, and in truth, there are many hilarious moments, and we laugh even though we're also squirming in our seats knowing how offensive some of these jokes are. Mr. Wong has a good line, though, about being racist. I think he somehow sums up what the movie is about.
The movie appeals to the lower common denominator by latching onto the stereotypes -- they are by nature funny, even though they are not politically correct. I think Murphy and company aim at offending, much like the South Park guys, to poke fun at our culture and our own prejudices. Here, we have the meek hero who gets abused and used until he wises up at the end; we have a beautiful, thin woman who, of course, is kind and wonderful and lovable; we have an overweight, overbearing, gross, unattractive woman who, of course, is mean and nasty; and we have an Asian guy who is himself a racist. In truth, I think I understand what Murphy is trying to do there, and boy did I have a good laugh, too.
Director Brian Robbins (The Shaggy Dog) keeps up a good pace, but the film feels unfocused. The setups are effective, and the editing is adequate, especially with Eddie Murphy playing three parts and often sharing screen time simultaneously. Rick Baker's special makeup is excellent as usual, especially with Rasputia. The comedy has some hilarious moments, some tender moments, but at times, it seems too loud and obnoxious. The broad and crude humor works best in a crowded theater on a Saturday night.
There's nothing new about Norbit, but Eddie Murphy seems to have fun doing what he does best. And we appreciate his talent. If we can set aside our political correctness and treat the film as what it is -- a raunchy, crude comedy that aims to offend just about anyone -- we may really enjoy it.
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Terry Crews, Clifton Powell, Mighty Rasta, Cuba Gooding Jr., Eddie Griffin, Katt Willaims
Director: Brian Robbins
Writers: Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Eddie Murphy, Charles Q. Murphy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some nudity and language
Running Time: 102 minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.2 out of 10