Oh My Lard

Eddie Murphy mines fat for laughs and comes up short in Norbit. Courtesy photo.
Dir. Brian Robbins; writ. Jay Scherick, David Ronn; feat. Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Cuba Gooding Jr. (PG-13)
At first, I thought it possible that Norbit was merely misunderstood, that a movie that appeared so pointless, laughless, and mean was perhaps only a hyperbolic metaphor for how we all feel about our significant others: they snore, they hog the bed, they could use a gym membership … Turns out it is just pointless and mean.

I laughed twice in this nearly two-hour-long movie. Twice. That comes out to once an hour. I laughed more in Children of Men. Yet somehow, the rest of the theater’s patrons (and there were more than I expected) last Saturday afternoon were as on cue as a laugh track. Every single cursed time Rasputia leaped onto Norbit and broke the bed, they cracked up. Fat lady can’t fit in her car. Ha! Fat lady in a bikini. Ha! Fat lady gets harpooned like a whale. Ha! Come on America, you deserve better — even for easy viewing. What about Rush Hour? What about Shaun of the Dead? Rent thyself some Scrubs for heaven’s sake!

I think you’re due a bit more background. As a baby, Norbit’s parents tossed him from their speeding vehicle at the door of an orphanage/Chinese-food restaurant run by Mr. Wong (Murphy) and his wife, Ling Ling. When the Norbster’s “buddy-partner” Kate gets adopted, he’s left alone until claimed by the ruthless, rotund Rasputia (Murphy). It’s not so bad to begin with; Norbit is welcomed into Rasputia’s family — real or adopted, we never truly know — but then he marries her for no real reason, it is, apparently, just the natural next step. (When you deeply want a comedy to work, you’ll force yourself to accept any foolish logic. At the Current we like to call this a Bubba Ho-tepNorbit is not so persuasive.)

Once the couple is hitched, Norbit sees Rasputia for what she really is (and in this sense, Norbit is Shallow Hal’s antithesis): heartless. How ironic then, that simultaneous to his realization, Norbit’s playground-love, Kate (Newton), skinny and kind, should bring her fine self back to town with her fiancé (Gooding) in tow.

The entire movie runs like a “Your-mom-is-so-fat” joke. There’s no real necessity for Rasputia to be obese, except that maybe make-up artists need bragging rights, too. The action of the film could certainly move forward sans lard: Rasputia’s still cruel, lazy, unfaithful, physically abusive, and sister to three brothers who may as well be Corleones. It’s painful to watch an actor like Murphy, with such incredible comedic talent, slum like this (same goes to his Bowfinger co-star Steve Martin for his latest endeavors).

My advice: Save your dough.