Norbit isn't awful, it's just really, really bad.
Eddie Murphy returns to the well-worn territory of playing multiple characters that he pioneered in Coming to America and The Nutty Professor movies, which has sense been imitated countless times by Martin Lawrence and now once more by Murphy himself.
Murphy is Norbit, a geeky orphan who's always had a tough time socially. He meets up with Rasputia (also Murphy), an overweight, mean-spirited girl. She protects him from the bullies, so Norbit marries Rasputia. Murphy also portrays Mr. Wong, the racist head of the orphanage as well as a Chinese food restaurant that resides within the orphanage. After marrying Rasputia, her treatment grows even more reprehensible - she cheats on him, bosses him around and physically abuses him.
When Norbit's childhood love Kate (Thandie Newton) returns to town and Norbit sees his chance to escape his Bridezilla. One problem, Kate is engaged to the slick Deion Hughes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who himself has an ulterior motive. Unbeknownst to Kate, who has returned to town to buy the orphanage where she grew up, Rasputia's three brothers - Big Jack (Terry Crews), Earl (Clifton Powell) and Blue (Lester "Rasta" Speight) (What, was Tiny Lister busy?) have an ulterior motive with Deion to turn the orphanage into a strip club called Nippleopolis. The name of that strip club, by the way, is one of the three or four laughs in this movie that keep it from being awful.
Man oh man, Eddie Murphy, how far you have fallen. It's not fair that you got our hopes up with Dreamgirls only to follow-up with this. Over the past month, I was impressed with Eddie Murphy's performance in Dreamgirls and then I was reminded of his incredible talent at only 22 years old when I re-watched the hysterical Delirious, which was finally released on DVD earlier this week. But then, last night, I had to sit through Norbit.
Some of Norbit's few, few bright spots are the moments where the town's two pimps (played by Eddie Griffin and Katt Williams) emerge on screen. They really don't have anything to do with the plot, but they have the best lines and scenes in the movie. They are the comic relief, you might say, but how odd it is when an Eddie Murphy comedy needs comic relief?
Murphy is basically phoning it in at this point. His Norbit character, a sort of grown up Urkel, is the same character he played in his last good comedy, 1999's Bowfinger. That time, the character was called 'Jiff' Ramsey. And we've already seen Murphy play an old Asian man and a big far woman before. Rasputia inexplicably repeats the catch phrase "How You Doing" over and over throughout the movie, less and less funny with each repetition. Yawn.
Cuba Gooding, seriously, has it come to this? You have an Oscar, man. Snow Dogs, Boat Trip and now this? At least those were starring roles, but the bad guy boyfriend in a low rent comedy like this one is a new low.
And speaking of low rent, Norbit sets a new standard. The entire is shot on a back lot and makes no attempt to conceal this fact. It almost seems to embrace it in a way. Clearly, the money went to cast.
Finally, we have director Brian Robbins. Some of his career highlights include (and I can't make this stuff up) Ready to Rumble, Hard Ball, The Perfect Score and the remake of The Shaggy Dog. Annnnnnd, don't get too excited, but Robbins is re-teaming with Murphy for next year's Starship Dave. How will I sustain myself until that future comedy masterpiece makes its way to theaters?
I could go on and on, but I won't. Norbit sucks. I know this, many people will see this. But I'm a realistic man. It will be the number one movie in America this weekend. Critics will pan it, but "America" will love it all the way to Norbit 2 and, again, I am left scratching my head and wishing for days gone by.