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Steven Spielberg can rest easy. After going public in The New York Times about his concerns over how DreamWorks is coexisting with its corporate parent, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks’ sensationally abysmal “Norbit” goes out with no Paramount logo or credit as the film unspools. The only mention distributor Paramount gets at all is at the very end, when the familiar mountain-peak logo appears in the final frames.
There is doubtless a sizable audience for the lowbrow “Norbit,” but there is little on display here for DreamWorks (or anyone else) to brag about. As Eddie Murphy’s follow-up to 2006’s “Dreamgirls” — and his current Oscar nomination and newfound critical respect — this is a return to overly familiar comic form and thus a disappointment to anyone but a Klump.
Producer John Davis (Murphy’s “Dr. Dolittle” and “Dr. Dolittle 2”) and director Brian Robbins (“The Shaggy Dog”) are nothing if not prolific, and it could be argued that moviegoers should be grateful they have not given us yet another remake. Instead, the story concocted by siblings Eddie and Charles Murphy (formerly “Charlie” and best-known as a performer on TV’s “Chappelle’s Show”) and scripted by them along with Jay Scherick & David Ronn, has the star playing just three roles — not a lot by Eddie’s standards.
The story opens in 1968 with an infant Norbit being abandoned outside an orphanage in rural Boiling Springs, Tenn. The Golden Wonton is owned and managed by Mr. Wong (Murphy), and it is there that young, timid Norbit and young, sweet Kate meet and become close friends. After Kate is adopted, Norbit’s life turns into hell when a big, bossy girl named Rasputia takes an interest in him.
By 1985, the young adult Norbit and the plus-size Rasputia (both Murphy) are getting married and setting up house in their hometown. Norbit is employed by Rasputia’s family business, Latimore Sand & Gravel, which is run by her gigantic thug brothers Big Jack (Terry Crews), Earl (Clifton Powell) and Blue (Lester “Rasta” Speight). When Kate (Thandie Newton) unexpectedly returns to town after years in Atlanta, she has blossomed into a beauty.
Kate has big dreams for the orphanage, but her conniving fiance, Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.), is soon concocting underhanded deals with the Latimore brothers. Meanwhile, Rasputia hooks up with her smarmy dance instructor, Buster (Marlon Wayans), for some extramarital private lessons in the bedroom. Acting almost as a twisted Greek chorus are a pair of sly ex-pimps, Pope Sweet Jesus (Eddie Griffin) and Lord Have Mercy (Katt Williams), who run the local rib joint and help out our hero every so often. Their nonstop patter, though inane, is about the best thing on display here, and most welcome.
Rasputia’s ever-changing fashions, courtesy of costumer Molly Maginnis, are humorously inappropriate and dead-on, and six-time Academy Award winner Rick Baker has managed to age this she-beast so realistically it’s a bit frightening. Eddie Murphy, predictably, has a field day playing “her,” but then he could do this kind of thing in his sleep.
“Norbit” is racially insensitive, politically incorrect and beyond crude (and what Newton was thinking is hard to fathom), and the production values are so innocuous that two studio backlots have never looked less real. Is it not reasonable to wonder why a new Murphy comedy seems hardly different than any number of the talented star’s releases from a decade ago?
DreamWorks Pictures presents a John Davis production
Director: Brian Robbins
Story by: Eddie Murphy & Charles Murphy
Screenplay by: Eddie Murphy & Charles Murphy and Jay Scherick & David Ronn
Producers: John Davis, Eddie Murphy
Executive producers: Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins, David Householter
Director of photography: J. Clark Mathis
Production designer: Clay A. Griffith
Editor: Ned Bastille
Costume designer: Molly Maginnis
Music: David Newman
Special makeup effects: Rick Baker
Norbit/Rasputia/Mr. Wong: Eddie Murphy
Kate: Thandie Newton
Deion: Cuba Gooding Jr.
Pope Sweet Jesus: Eddie Griffin
Big Jack: Terry Crews
Earl: Clifton Powell
Blue: Lester “Rasta” Speight
Lord Have Mercy: Katt Williams
Buster: Marlon Wayans
Floyd the Dog: Charlie Murphy
Running time — 102 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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