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"BLACK KNIGHT"
(2001) (Martin Lawrence, Tom Wilkinson) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A 21st century man finds himself transported back to 14th century England where he finds himself caught up in a rebellion to overthrow the corrupt king.
PLOT:
Jamal Walker (MARTIN LAWRENCE) is a 21st century man who, along with his buddy Steve (DARYL MITCHELL), works for Mrs. Bostick (ISABELL MONK) at Medieval World Family Fun Center. Not the most loyal employee, Jamal already has his application ready for Castle World, a competing attraction set to open in two weeks.

He doesn't get the chance to apply, however, for when he's cleaning out the moat and trying to reach a medallion he's spotted, he's pulled beneath the water and suddenly finds himself in 14th century England. Of course, he doesn't realize that, and instead thinks he's somehow stumbled over to Castle World and is impressed by what appears to be quite the level of detail they've applied to the setting.

After meeting former knight and now loner drunk Sir Knolte (TOM WILKINSON), Jamal enters the castle where he's mistaken as the messenger for the Duke of Normandy whose arrival is imminent. Jamal goes along with what he thinks is an elaborate production and meets what he thinks are various actors. Among them is King Leo (KEVIN CONWAY) and his daughter, Princess Regina (JEANNETTE WEEGAR), who has an eye for Jamal, as well as Percival (VINCENT REGAN), the king's no-nonsense right-hand man who doesn't like the foreigner he refers to as a Moor.

Then there's Victoria (MARSHA THOMASON), one of the King's chambermaids to whom Jamal is instantly attracted. She, however, is secretly working with others in a rebellion to overthrow the corrupt king and reinstate the Queen (HELEN CAREY) back into power.

As Jamal finally realizes where he really is and tries to get used to life in the 14th century and its trappings, he must decide whether to return to the 21st century or help Victoria, Knolte and others take on the king and his men.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Will Rogers. Bing Crosby. Bugs Bunny. Martin Lawrence. Mentioning the four of them together in one breath might make one think someone had taken too many of them and hyperventilated, thus questionably lumping the four seemingly disparate stars together. Yet, the unlikely members of the quartet do share some similarities.

All are/were entertainers of their respective generation, with each essentially utilizing a repeated and well-recognized shtick and/or persona throughout their careers. The talent issue regarding that aside, all four have also now appeared in filmed adaptations of Mark Twain's "time travel" novel "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

Rogers and Crosby appeared in the respective 1931 and 1949 versions of the same name, while Bugs did so in the classic Looney Tunes short, "A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur's Court." Now, the star of films such as "What's the Worst That Could Happen?" and "Big Momma's House" keeps the tradition alive with "Black Knight."

Following in his predecessors' footsteps, Lawrence applies his own brand and signature style of comedy to the proceedings, but does so with mixed results. Fans of the actor's usual mugging, exaggerated verbal delivery and physical comedy will probably enjoy what's offered. For everyone else, however, this is likely to be a lame comedy that grows progressively more trying as it meanders through its predictable course.

Loosely following the general idea of Twain's work - which has to be considered the granddaddy of all "fish out of water" stories - the film is obviously designed to play off both what Lawrence's usual character brings to the 14th century and how he reacts to what it presents to him.

While the script - courtesy of screenwriters Darryl J. Quarles ("Big Momma's House," "Soldier Boyz") and Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow (who collaborated on "Say It Isn't So") -- keeps with the original's explanation - at least in principle - behind the "time travel," the "excuse" - which is obviously revealed at the end - allows for some rather lame and idiotic material to flow forth.

Of course, for those not familiar with or expecting that explanation, such developments will come off as so much worse. Beyond the fact that none of the locals seem too concerned about the sudden appearance of a mysterious man wearing a colorful football jersey and both acting and speaking in an odd fashion, there's the whole long sequence where he not only teaches the locals how to dance, but also gets the "band" to play "Dance to The Music" with little instruction.

It's a problem similar in nature to the dance band suddenly playing backup to Marty McFly's rendition of "Johnny B. Goode" in "Back to the Future." There, however, it was at least musically close from a temporal perspective and a great deal more fun to watch otherwise. Here, the moment - like most of the film - is too predictable, and director Gil Junger ("10 Things I Hate About You") simply doesn't make it as smart or enjoyable as it could and should have been.

The film's biggest problem, however, and among its many, is that it's simply not clever or imaginative enough in playing off the basic premise. The previous films all used contemporary devices and/or beliefs and attitudes to deal with the problem at hand. Although this film does the same, it's not to the same degree and simply isn't as smart as it should be. Here, the character teaches others how to fight using moves from football, professional wrestling, and Muhammad Ali's old rope-a-dope boxing routine, none of which are terribly funny, let alone creative.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the writers don't take the time to set up Lawrence's character to possess what it takes to survive and then thrive in his new environs. Other than seeing that he's a fast talking opportunist who works at a contemporary medieval world attraction, there's nothing with which the cast or crew can play off and the picture suffers accordingly. The whole bit about Jamal finally joining a rebellion to overthrow the king is contrived in execution and not particularly entertaining.

Beyond Lawrence acting pretty much the same as he does in his other films, the rest of the cast doesn't fare much better, no doubt stymied by the flat and uninspired script. For the most part, Tom Wilkinson ("In the Bedroom," "The Patriot") looks as hesitant to be involved in this mess as does his character in the rebellion, while Marsha Thomason ("Long Time Dead," various BBC productions) can't do much with her "woman ahead of her time" character.

Meanwhile, Kevin Conway ("Thirteen Days," "Mercury Rising") is rather flat as the king, and Vincent Regan ("The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," "B. Monkey") is so stereotypically villainous as the antagonist that I couldn't help but compare his character to that of Rufus Sewell's similarly constructed and played one in "A Knight's Tale."

Simply put, if you enjoy watching Lawrence and his usual sort of comedic performance and don't mind lame, predictable and unimaginative comedy, this film might be right up your alley. If not, this is one "Black Knight" you'll probably want to sleep through. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed November 15, 2001 / Posted November 21, 2001


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