NORBIT (Brian Robbins, 2007)
If NORBIT doesn't kill cinema, nothing will.
Imagine a less preachy Tyler Perry-scripted live-action cartoon with Eddie Murphy playing a Napoleon Dynamite-like lead to get a rough idea of what this stunningly bad film is like.
Raised at a Chinese restaurant/orphanage run by Mr. Wong (Murphy), dweeby orphan Norbit (Murphy, again) grows up to be a nice doormat of a man trampled by his elephantine wife Rasputia (Murphy, yet again). As children Norbit and Rasputia developed a relationship of convenience. She fended off bullies and provided the semblance of family when her three criminal brothers took him in. Norbit was the only kid who didn't quake in her intimidating presence.
As married adults Norbit waits hand and foot on his monstrous spouse and doesn't complain until he discovers Rasputia getting more than just a private lesson from her power tap dance instructor. Soon thereafter Norbit runs into Kate (Thandie Newton), his first true love at the orphanage and someone he hasn't seen since she was adopted. She has returned to Tennessee to purchase and operate the children's institution.
The sight of Kate rekindles old feelings in Norbit, but unfortunately she's engaged to Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a slickster whose facial hair should be a tip-off that he's bad news. Rasputia doesn't take kindly to Kate's reappearance and works overtime to make Norbit more miserable than he already is.
In recent years Murphy has carved out a niche with family-friendly films like DADDY DAY CARE and the DR. DOLITTLE movies. On the surface NORBIT might look like silly entertainment for all ages, but parents should think twice about the appropriateness of this crude comedy for their kids (or themselves, for that matter). NORBIT'S humor is as broad as Rasputia's ample backside, and many of the jokes are concerned with lower body functions.
There's nothing inherently wrong with bawdy humor--it didn't hurt Chaucer's reputation in literary circles--but NORBIT is the kind of film that bounces stupid rays at those within reach of the light reflected off the screen. The comedy lacks energy, cleverness, and originality. Rasputia's endlessly repeated "How you doin'?"is a desperate bid to create a catch phrase already popularized on FRIENDS. (Nevermind that it's employed in a different manner here.) Whenever NORBIT is flagging--the film's entire duration--it isn't long until those three words are shouted with attitude.
In the second season of the TV series EXTRAS, Ricky Gervais' Andy Millman grits his teeth at finally achieving success, albeit from delivering a lame catch phrase and wearing a wacky wig and goofy glasses on a lowbrow sitcom. Murphy is probably being better compensated for doing the same in NORBIT than the fictional Millman is on his show within a show, but it's sad to see a capable performer slumming in a film he must know is garbage. More DREAMGIRLS roles, Eddie, less of this dreck. (Poor Thandie Newton. The talented actress deserves much better than this, even if roles like it allow her to take meatier but lower paying parts.)
Like the curse averse Napoleon Dynamite--Norbit speaks just the first letter of vulgarities--Murphy's backbone-searching naïf is supposed to be funny because he's so pathetic. Although set up to be a lovable loser, Norbit is an unappealing character. He's just less objectionable than the other misfits in his community.
Deficient in laughs, flatly lit, and unimaginatively directed by Brian Robbins, NORBIT is the movie equivalent of the main character's favorite meal: turkey butt. Eat it up, America. Better yet, please don't.