Saturday, February 20, 2010

Review: To Hell with the Razzies, "Norbit" Rocks!

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 32 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Norbit (2007)
Running time: 102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some nudity, and language
DIRECTOR: Brian Robbins
WRITERS: Eddie Murphy & Charles Murphy and Jay Scherick & David Ronn; story by Eddie Murphy & Charles Murphy
PRODUCERS: John Davis and Eddie Murphy
EDITOR: Ned Bastille, A.C.E.
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Eddie Griffin, Terry Crews, and Cuba Gooding, Jr., Clifton Powell, Katt Williams, Lester “Rasta” Speight, and Marlon Wayans

If you were offended by the riotous 2003 Steve Martin/Queen Latifah comedy, Bringing Down the House, and considered it racially insensitive and filled with racial stereotypes, then the new Eddie Murphy comedy, Norbit, is not for you. Now, onto my glowing review:

Abandoned as a baby, Norbit Albert Rice (Eddie Murphy) was an orphan brought up by Mr. Wong (Murphy, again) at the Golden Wonton Restaurant and Orphanage. Lonely and feeling the need for a family, Norbit marries the hefty Rasputia Latimore (Murphy, yet again). A truly dysfunctional family, the monstrous Latimore and her three brothers – Big Jack (Terry Crews), Earl (Clifton Powell), and Blue (Lester “Rasta” Speight) – run Latimore Construction Company, and the Latimore boys use the company as an outpost to run the town of Boiling Springs, Tennessee, as they extort money from the town’s hard-working businesspeople.

Norbit is meek and held in contempt by the enormous Rasputia, and his only friends are two gregarious former pimps, Pope Sweet Jesus (Eddie Griffin) and Lord Have Mercy (Katt Williams). Norbit’s world takes a turn for the better when his childhood betrothed, the lovely Kate (Thandie Newton), returns to Boiling Springs to buy the orphanage from Mr. Wong. Norbit feels love swelling in his heart again, but Kate is engaged to her seemingly adoring fiancĂ©, Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Deion, however, is a phony, and he’s conspiring with the Latimores to steal the Golden Wonton and turn the orphanage into a revolting strip club.

Meanwhile, Rasputia doesn’t like how chummy Norbit and the Kate have become, nor does she like Norbit’s new found assertiveness. She brings the pain, and now, Norbit must find a way to get through her, her brothers, and anyone else that stands in the way of him getting to his true love, Kate.

Norbit is Eddie Murphy’s return to the boisterous, ribald comedy that shot him to fame in the 1980’s. When he was a youngster (“The Kid”), he displayed this unruly comedy on “Saturday Night Live,” in his HBO comedy special Eddie Murphy: Delirious, and in the film, 48 Hrs. Rude, crude, and able to do impersonations by putting an uncanny spin on famous figures in American popular culture, Murphy made people laugh. His 1988 film, Coming to America, revealed his ability to play multiple characters while performing under the work of special effect make-up god emperor, Rick Baker. In the 1996 film, The Nutty Professor, Murphy took Baker’s make-up and his own ability to create multiple characters to play several characters with surprising grace and felicity. In Norbit, Rick Baker, the winner of six Academy Awards, again does amazing work creating two visually astonishing characters (Rasputia and Mr. Wong) for Murphy to play.

As Norbit, Rasputia, and Mr. Wong, Murphy takes everything he’s learned and all the skills he’s sharpened to turn in a bravura performance. This is not to say that the rest of Norbit’s cast doesn’t do great work. They’re funny, but they have very few moments in which they aren’t shining because they’re playing off Murphy. Even Thandie Newton is pitch perfect as the gentle sweetheart, Kate. Still, this is Murphy’s show, and he blazes.

I laughed myself to exhaustion, and cried with laughter the way many people cry with grief. Murphy plays Norbit with such subtlety. Norbit isn’t some nerd stereotype. Murphy has fully realized this character giving him physical habits and ticks (such his penchant for mumbling his frustration and rage). Through the make-up, Murphy humanizes Norbit; in fact, Murphy plays him so well that Norbit comes across as a put-upon man struggling to stand up for himself, rather than as just another movie nerd. This is a performance similar to the one Murphy gave as Professor Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor.

Murphy’s performance as Rasputia is pure, screen brilliance. She’s over the top, but she is also multi-layered. Murphy plays Rasputia for full comic effect that is to comedy what a slew of Oscar-nominated performances are to drama. Some people wondered why Murphy just didn’t let Mo’Nique play Rasputia, but as funny as she is, Mo’Nique could never do what Murphy does with the character.

Norbit is rude and filled with crude, sexual humor, and despite its rating, the film is way too vulgar for a broad family audience. Still, I should not discourage anyone from having a chance to see Murphy. He is a great actor too often thought of as just a great comedian who acts. Basically, Norbit is a laugh-out-loud comedy and there are some talented comics and actors featured in this film. But Murphy’s trio of performances makes Norbit something really special.

8 of 10

Sunday, February 11, 2007

2008 Academy Awards: 1 nomination for “Best Achievement in Makeup” (Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji)


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