ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound A- Extras B-
starring Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Cuba Gooding, Jr.
screenplay by Eddie Murphy & Charles Murphy and Jay Scherick & David Ronn
directed by Brian Robbins
by Walter Chaw I looked up George Carlin's seven dirty words that you can't say on television and, sure enough, there was the outline for the gags, narrative, reason for being, you name it, of Eddie Murphy's Norbit: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits. Marvin the Martian-talking geek pastiche Norbit (Murphy) is an orphan abandoned on the doorstep of Golden Wonton Restaurant and Orphanage by unkind kindly Asian caricature Mr. Wong (Murphy again), who, in a moment that doesn't feel like a joke but definitely feels full of rage, confesses that he traded his two-year-old daughter for a yak (in another, he reveals his dream to be a whaler, making him more Japanese than Chinese, but hey, a slant's a slant). Not connected to anything like atonement or social/racial satire, Mr. Wong hovers there in the background as occasional wise commentary while Norbit loses his childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton) and marries the monstrous Rasputia (yes, Murphy). Norbit loathes fat people, Asians, women (note the two girls who really, really want to get turned out by Eddie Griffin's pimp archetype), and black people most of all. I guess this is meant to soften the misanthropy, except it doesn't really matter that the perpetrators of the screenplay are Murphy and his out-of-work brother Charlie--catching this coattail now after Dave Chappelle rolled up his--if the director is a white guy.
Norbit needs a mother figure and thus runs to the massive bosom of Rasputia (motherfucker, tits: check, check); his relationship with Kate is established early on when the two of them take a dump together (shit--piss, too); there's an interminable montage wherein the morbidly obese Rasputia (her name, it bears mentioning, is never mined for its Rasputin possibilities), in various S&M gear, smothers Norbit with girl-love (fuck); an inevitable bikini wax sequence (cunt) that, cheating here, ends in a cunnilingus gag with Rasputia exclaiming, "I was wonderin' where Norbit lost his police whistle!" (Cocksucker.) THE ONION had a brilliant headline proclaiming 'Eddie Murphy fucks self for $20M,' which serves as succinct commentary on the film--or it would've had the headline included the rest of us being fucked simultaneously, lest we forget the trio of Italian restaurateur/mob stereotypes, a late scene in a Mexican strip club, an old white lady who busts out the mojo, and a reference to Benny Hill.
Because it doesn't want to leave any other possible retards out of the fun, it also has a talking dog with two broken legs, a late play for sentimentality, kid reaction shots, farting, and cartoon slapstick so woefully lacking in wit and timing that it seems cruel to the point of vicious. It steals the "Milkshake" gag from Date Movie--which, correct me if I'm wrong, is a movie already composed entirely of stolen gags from other movies--and it addresses body-image issues in an uncomfortable dialogue wherein a man wearing a Rick Baker-crafted fat-suit assaults stick-thin Thandie Newton for her asexual figure. Touch on orphans, touch on eating disorders, touch on race, and, frankly, you have a responsibility to not be a complete imbecile. Have I gotten to Cuba Gooding Jr. as yet another black-betraying manqué to add to his gallery of race-traitor performances?
Believe me when I say there's enough blame to go around. Norbit is remarkably consistent in its incompetence, in its tireless recycling of ugly jokes from Murphy's other drag artifacts, in its race-baiting and body-loathing. It's such a disquieting, dreadful, reckless thing that the fact that it seems like it's all set in a Neverland in which an angry mob chasing a trio of black men isn't meant to evoke a good old-fashioned lynching is more the point than beside the point. Norbit isn't farce--it's a thoughtless, cancerous, viral, irresponsible pollution whose existence speaks ill of the society that produced it and of any society that would endorse or defend it. It's not the end of civilization, just symptomatic of how easy it is to get laughs on the backs of the disenfranchised--and of how African-American actors get awards for singing and acting like criminals (or bright children and athletes) but generally get paid for acting the fool. Originally published: February 9, 2007.
by Bill Chambers DreamWorks presents Norbit on DVD in competing widescreen and fullscreen editions; we received the former for review. The 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer is handicapped at the outset by an ugly yellow cast added in post (as the untreated deleted scenes demonstrate), but the image isn't helped by the slight solarization and a scrim of video noise introduced at the telecine level. A simplistic sound design comes in barely-distinguishable DD 5.1 and 2.0 flavours, with only Rasputia's reign of terror occasionally adding some literal Jurassic Park heft to the audio. Extras are blessedly bereft of a commentary track--instead we get a handful of not-altogether-shameful featurettes. (If nothing else, Norbit is quite the specimen to dissect.) First up is Light Source & Imagery's 22-minute "The Making of Norbit", in which Eddie Murphy walks the knife's edge of self-awareness ("When I put on these makeups, I get to go to some whole other place...that I couldn't go with [my real face] on"), Thandie Newton hails the movie as a palate cleanser to a string of demanding roles/films (to think Jonathan Demme remade Charade for her when all he had to do was put Eddie Murphy in a fat-suit), and we see nifty demonstrations of how the split-screens were accomplished; turns out that much of the time Murphy is only playing Rasputia from the neck up, a good-natured obese woman filling in for the body. Allegedly, casting Murphy in the part at all makes palatable Norbit's depiction of domestic violence.
Murphy's Lon Chaney complex remains unexplored in the companion piece "Man of 1,000 Faces" (4 mins.), wherein a crusty Rick Baker positions himself as being stuck in a purgatory of Murphy's devising in-between identifying the various prosthetic techniques used to realize Rasputia, et al. Next, the immanently-disposable "Power Tap" turns in-character junket interviews with Marlon Wayans--a long way from Requiem for a Dream--into a mock infomercial for his character's dance-rcise regimen; jokes sold separately. Last but not least, "The Stunts of Norbit" (12 mins.) reveals a few fascinating tidbits, e.g. that DreamWorks has a policy prohibiting effects coordinators from placing minors on machine-powered rigs. (Wire work? That's a different story.) Though no explanation is provided for their elision, I suspect the fourteen short deleted scenes (8 mins. in toto) fell on the chopping block for threatening the film's PG-13 rating--particularly Eddie Griffin's routine as a faith healer who cures a barren woman by fondling her breasts. There's also a surprisingly prevalent use of the N-word among these outtakes. A photo gallery featuring stunningly beautiful shots of Newton joins Norbit's trailer plus non-anamorphic previews for Paramount's Eddie Murphy promotion, Freedom Writers, Transformers, and Blades of Glory in rounding out the disc, the latter two cuing up on startup. Norbit is packaged in a red keepcase, the better to indicate the Devil's presence, I guess. Originally published: June 5, 2007.
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