B Sound A- Extras B
starring Martin Lawrence, Tom Wilkinson, Marsha Thomason, Vincent Regan
screenplay by Darryl J. Quarles and Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow
directed by Gil Junger
by Walter Chaw Jamal Walker (Martin Lawrence) is a groundskeeper at an all-black amusement park who, just prior to falling in a stagnant moat, is given a dressing down for being "selfish" and not community-minded enough. ("Community" referring to the African-American populace of South Central Los Angeles.) Sharp-eyed viewers should instantly recognize that Black Knight will at some point metastasize from a farce to a public service announcement. (Luckily, we're given a solid first act and a few moments in the second before it does.) When Jamal goes into the moat in pursuit of a golden medallion, he surfaces from a fetid stew in a never-never land where the plain protagonist becomes the keystone in a kingdom-wide intrigue.
But unlike The Wizard ofOz, Jamal's lack of brains, courage, and heart remain safely un-manifested in his loud-mouthed, lascivious, puerile persona. Although the most obvious comparison that arises from Black Knight's stranger in a strange time scenario is not The Wizard ofOz but Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (or Jean-Marie Poiré's Les Visiteurs in reverse), Black Knight is better equated with Disney's justifiably forgotten Unidentified Flying Oddball.
Helping Jamal in the medieval world are fallen knight Sir Knolte (the seriously slumming Tom Wilkinson) and chambermaid Victoria (Marsha Thomason), both allied against evil King Leo (Kevin Conway) and his snarling Aryan henchman Percival (Vincent Regan). Black Knight, in its early fantasy scenes, provides ample opportunity for Lawrence to steal the show, which he accomplishes through a combination of physical comedy and cheery insouciance. Expecting more from what is essentially a vehicle to showcase the comedian's antics would be foolhardy.
And yet Black Knight comes perilously close to something greater than advertised, possessed of enough momentum, sly smarts, and guileless charm in its first half to almost convince us that Lawrence had at last found a way to make his jittery persona work for an entire film. When Black Knight decides to address issues of race, however (as in Jamal's surprisingly serious "I'm beginning not to like the term "Moor" very much"), it would do well not to follow attempts at social awareness with yet another moment in which the brother teaches the white folks how to dance while a hot-to-trot white girl gets a little of the fever. It's the equivalent of saying, "Hey, we're human beings not racial stereotypes...just kidding--let's jam."
Though it's hopeless to try to ascribe Lawrence's shtick much sociological importance no matter how hard Black Knight tries to slide it in between the slapstick gags, just the hint that the film could have been both funnier and more intelligent than it resolves itself to be proves an extreme disappointment. All the more so in light of The Farrelly Brothers' notably thorny Shallow Hal: If the kings of the gross-out can try out a new crown, it raises the bar for all former one-trick ponies.
In the end, Black Knight is exactly what it appears: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure starring Martin Lawrence and given a smattering of urban social consciousness to lend it a half-assed relevance that it neither deserves nor carries off. Still, forty-five minutes of Black Knight are largely hilarious, carried on the goodwill engendered by Lawrence's surprisingly unabashed parody of the def/frenetic persona he helped to define. Veteran television director Gil Junger's feature debut works so long as it focuses on Lawrence remaining ignorant of the Dorothy Gale fix that he's in, and collapses whenever it strives for social message or resorts to the rickety plot conventions of a peasant-revolt formula that's been tired since Danny Kaye's definitive The Court Jester in 1956. Black Knight should have had Lawrence riff on time travel in a variety of temporal scenarios: an urban updating of Time Bandits is, after all, far more appetizing than the umpteenth variation on fish-out-of-time. Though Jamal predictably scores his Dorothy-ian triple play by the end (just prior to a groan-inducing promise of a Roman sequel), Black Knight is left searching for courage and a brain. Originally published: November 21, 2001.
by Bill Chambers Fox's Black Knight DVD suffers from an absence of deep blacks, and no, that's not some kind of racial slur. Letterboxed at 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays, the film's video transfer is low-contrast in the early scenes to the point where it looks like the telecine operators misjudged, though this defect steadily improves throughout the feature: the medieval climax exhibits no such shortcoming. The muted colour palette more befits Black Knight's setting than a greyness to shadows. Married to a slightly disappointing image, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is just short of thunderous--enthusiastic is the word that springs to mind. For once in a Martin Lawrence comedy, deep bass is not limited to the hip-hop songs on the soundtrack; unfortunately, the often-lush soundscape is so immersive it draws too much attention to the artificiality of the film's mise-en-scène. Thus, the quality of the audio not only bests that of the picture, but the soundmix overwhelms the visuals, too.
Falling square under the category of "Why isn't it Called a Special Edition?", the Black Knight DVD features a 2-minute outtake reel of cast and crew laughin' it up; the arbitrarily titled featurettes "A Timeless Friendship" (9 mins.) and "Pratfalls & Parapets" (7 mins.), which show us that Jamal and Lawrence's responses to the Dark Ages were one and the same--Lawrence didn't even want to shoot the 'castle lavatory' bit; storyboard-to-scene comparisons for the "Rope-A-Dope" and "The Coliseum" sequences; a 4-minute doc on the "Construction" of Black Knight's historically based sets, in particular the peasant village; two deleted scenes--in the first of which tennis star Serena Williams cameos--with commentary from director Junger; a 3-minute piece on Paula Abdul's "Choreography," with soundbites from the reclusive jacqueline-of-all-pop-trades herself; mildly interesting, picture-in-picture Martin Lawrence interviews regarding two specific scenes ("Martin on Moviemaking"); a film-length commentary from Junger, straining to be deadpan-funny and failing; and trailers for Black Knight (two of them), Unfaithful, and Minority Report. Originally published: April 9, 2002.