Norbit has taken $75m at the US box office. If their President wasn’t reason enough why most US citizens shouldn’t have the vote, that figure is all the extra proof we need. Because, like one of the gaseous emissions that provides much of its “comedy”, Norbit stinks.
Eddie Murphy — in the same year as an Oscar nomination! Why Eddie? Why? — plays Norbit, the ineffectual title character. Think Forrest Gump with an afro and a really, really fat and nasty wife Rasputia played — without any discernible vocal disguise — by Eddie Murphy. Norbit was raised by Mr Wong — played by, er, Eddie Murphy — the owner of the Golden Wonton Restaurant and Orphanage which is where he met his soul mate, the lovely Kate. When Kate is adopted, Norbit’s distraught and easily intimidated. Enter Rasputia, part protector, part girlfriend, and Norbit’s life is settled. They grow up, get married and Norbit gets increasingly miserable.
And then Kate, now played by the lovely Thandie Newton — Why Thandie? Why? — returns to buy the orphanage But she’s being conned. Her fiancé Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr, a man whose Oscar now, officially, means nothing) is not who he says and in cahoots with Rasputia and her violent brothers to turn the orphanage into a strip club called The Nipplopolis. That, incidentally, is the best joke in the film. Will Norbit overcome his gentle nature and save the day? Will he stand up to his wife? Will he and Kate end up together? Does anyone give a monkey’s? For the record, the answers are, respectively, yes, yes, yes and hell no.
This is a film that manages to offend on so many levels, it’s actually something of a landmark. While the Farrellys do the balls-out offensive stuff, they manage to take it to such extremes, that laughter becomes a guilty pleasure. Under the guidance of director Brian Robbins — the man who also made The Shaggy Dog and must now give me back three hours of my life or die — Norbit just offends. Fat people, black people, old people, the Chinese, Italians, Jews and all possible combinations of the above are targeted in a vast array of unfunny jokes and set-pieces. It’s not so much laughter, the guilty pleasure as laughter, the increasingly rare phenomenon.
Plus points? The make-up’s impressive. And to be fair, Norbit could have been worse: it could have been longer. I’ve been told by the designer that it’s not possible to award minus points. Hence, it’s a big fat zero out of five. And that’s being generous.
SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor: Oh, Eddie. Oh, Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. What have you done? What were you thinking? Were you even thinking at all? On leaving the preview screening, all I wanted to do was get hold of Eddie Murphy and sit him down and show him some of his old films — you know, films like 48 Hours, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming To America. Just to remind him that he was once a very funny man. Because now it seems that the only time Eddie Murphy is funny on screen is when he's being an ass.
Norbit is just a mess of a movie. It's nasty, misogynistic, racist, cruel and just not funny. I think I laughed just once through the whole film, and that was at a talking dog (talking dogs are always funny, no matter what anybody else tells you). As a romantic comedy, it lacks any originality. The characters are either stereotyped cliches (Mr Wong, the racist Chinese orphanage owner; Rasputia's dumb-as-a-stump, bully-boy brothers; the fast-talking pimps), deadly dull (Norbit himself) or irredeemably awful — Rasputia. What can I say about her, apart from the fact that she is probably the most evil, vile character to appear on screen since George W Bush gave his last State of The Union address.
Eddie Murphy should have learned his lesson from the Martin Lawrence abomination, Big Momma's House — the days when you can make fun of fat women, and especially fat black women, are long gone. It's no surprise he didn't win an Oscar for Dreamgirls; the Academy voters must have seen Norbit and immediately burned his name from their minds. The only person who walks away from this wreck with their dignity intact is makeup supremo Rick Baker, who did the prosthetics for Mr Wong and Rasputia. Baker — who has won 6 Oscars and worked on such films as Star Wars, An American Werewolf In London, Coming To America, Men In Black and Hellboy — can hold his head high. His work, as always, is outstanding. Everybody else (yes, including you, Thandie Newton) should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
THIRD OPINION | Janina Conboye: Nutty Professor, eat your heart out — this film is worse. In the past, Eddie Murphy has shown an indisputable talent to pull off numerous characters and be extremely funny. Despite his efforts to take on the unlikeliest roles — namely a grotesque, overweight troll-like woman and a Chinese (yes, Chinese) restaurateur and orphanage owner — this film fails to impress.
Murphy puts in good performances, but they lack any of the really intelligent humour or comic talent that we see from him in films like Coming To America and Beverly Hills Cop. Many of the comedy scenes are slapstick, a genre I’ve never been particularly fond of, and it isn’t helped by the fact that the slapstick is pretty rubbish and quite violent. There was the odd decent comedy scene, but it wasn’t enough to hold up a lacklustre story.
Pope Sweet Jesus and Lord Have Mercy were quite a humorous pair, but Thandie Newton was flat. In fairness she didn’t have much to go on with a pretty basic and predictable character. Despite the movie’s obvious flaws, a special mention should go to Rick Baker for his excellent and very realistic makeup. Apart from that the movie doesn’t really amount to much and is boring in parts. There is no doubt that Norbit falls into the Nutty Professor type rom com category, so if you didn’t like that, then you almost certainly won’t like this.