[Screen It]

(2007) (Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A henpecked husband must contend with his overbearing and brutally mean wife while hoping to rekindle his friendship and maybe something more with his childhood friend from the orphanage where he was raised.
Once upon a time, there was an infant named Norbit Albert Rice who was unceremoniously dropped off at the Golden Wonton Restaurant and Orphanage. Raised by Mr. Wong (EDDIE MURPHY), young Norbit's best friend was another orphan, Kate. But when she was adopted, he was all alone until the imposing Rasputia saved him from some bullies and declared him hers forever.

Years later, Norbit (EDDIE MURPHY) is the henpecked and mousey husband to Rasputia (EDDIE MURPHY), a mean and extremely obese woman who runs their Boiling Springs, Tennessee home with an iron fist. That traits run in her family as her three muscular brothers, Big Jack (TERRY CREWS), Earl (CLIFTON POWELL) and Blue (LESTER 'RASTA' SPEIGHT) use their Latimore Construction Company as a front for extorting all of the local businesses. The only people who don't kowtow to them are Mr. Wong as well as Pope Sweet Jesus (EDDIE GRIFFIN) and Lord Have Mercy (KATT WILLIAMS), two former pimps who now run the local ribs joint.

Working as their bookkeeper, Norbit isn't remotely happy there or at home, especially when he discovers that Rasputia is having an affair with local aerobics instructor Buster (MARLON WAYANS). Yet, things look up when Kate (THANDIE NEWTON) unexpectedly returns to town, hoping to purchase the orphanage from Mr. Wong. Norbit is excited to see his childhood friend now grown up and quite attractive, but is heartbroken when he learns she's engaged to real estate developer Deion Hughes (CUBA GOODING, JR.).

Nevertheless, he's pleased to spend time with her, something that doesn't set well with Rasputia. When Norbit learns that Deion is in cahoots with his in-laws to conspire against Kate and her plans, the mild-mannered man decides he must do something before it's too late, all while having to deal with his ill-tempered wife.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
In today's moviemaking world where film budgets sometimes exceed the gross national product of certain third world countries, there are efforts among some to bring down those exorbitant production costs. One of the most visible and more publicized elements of them are actor salaries, with those at the top of the game sometimes making $25 million or more per picture (especially considering backend profits).

There are various potential solutions, but all have their share of drawbacks. One could obviously just replace the A-list performers with those lower on the alphabetical scale, but studios fear the lack of big box office draws. In that case, the number of performers could be reduced, but filmed monologues don't play well outside the art house circuit. Completely computerized actors is another option, but they're also cost-prohibitive at the moment and face the same problem as employing the B and C-listers.

The answer, of course, is to get one A-lister, and then have the actor or actress play multiple parts in the same film. One of the most notable performers capable of doing just that has been Eddie Murphy. Having honed playing multiple characters on TV's "Saturday Night Live," the comedian took those skills to the big screen in "Coming to America" and then his remake of "The Nutty Professor" (and its subsequent sequel) where he played the various members of the Klump family, disappearing into the various roles.

Hot off his single character success in "Dreamgirls," Murphy returns to the multiple bit in "Norbit," a redundant, sloppily executed and decidedly unfunny comedy about a mild-mannered, henpecked husband married to a shrewish bully of a woman who just so happens to be extremely obese. The actor plays both parts, as well as that of a racist and politically incorrect restaurant owner who also runs the local orphanage.

Most of the film's laughs are supposed to stem from all of the fat jokes. That includes but certainly isn't limited to the sight of the obese woman in otherwise skimpy attire (such as a bikini where the bottom is hidden by all of her belly fat hanging down over it, thus essentially making her look nude); her having a sexual appetite (doing role-playing and jumping on her smaller husband, thus causing the bed beneath them to collapse); as well as the usual stereotypical elements (the thunderous footsteps, the splashdown in a pool emptying it of water, etc.).

Unfortunately, but not exactly surprisingly, few if any of the jokes are successful. And that's not only because we've seen most of them before (the film even steals from the equally horrendous "Date Movie" the bit of the obese woman getting all sudsy and rubbing her clothed bosom on the windows while washing the car), but also because they're mean, misogynistic, and not particularly inspired from a comedy standpoint.

The same holds true for the other attempts at comedy, many of which seem out of place here and/or cobbled together from other films by director Brian Robbins. Eddie Griffin and Katt Williams occasionally show up as former pimps who still walk the walk and talk the talk while running the local rib joint (and come closest to generating the best laughs, even if they're similarly recycling previously seen material).

Terry Crews, Clifton Powell and Lester Speight play the hulking and menacing but somewhat dimwitted thugs who are scared of their sister, while a talking pug is lifted from the "Men in Black" films (with the pooch's ability to talk coming completely out of the blue).

As happened in the past, Murphy disappears into most of his characters. The easiest in which to recognize him is the title character, a weird bird that seems like an amalgamation of some of his previous personas (especially the voice). Yet, he doesn't really elicit any sympathy from the viewer except by default and in comparison to the overbearing wife (Murphy's portrayal of the ill-tempered and rude Rasputia replaces Diane Keaton's appearance in "Because I Said So" as the year's most annoying female character).

Thandie Newton can't do much with her character that's about as thinly drawn as the actress' stature, and the subplot featuring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as her con man fiancÚ doesn't do anything for the film (beyond making one wonder what happened to his once promising career).

Of course, if you find the opening scene -- where a swaddled infant is tossed out of a moving car to roll and bounce its way to an orphanage door where the aforementioned Asian owner decries the baby's race and lack of attractiveness -- as funny, you might be in hog heaven with all of the subsequent, politically incorrect material.

I can only imagine, however, that despite having also co-written the screenplay (reportedly based on having viewed some Internet video featuring a woman whaling on her husband), Murphy is probably secretly hoping that all of the Oscar voters have already cast their ballots for his "Dreamgirls" performance before the release of this film.

Otherwise, there might be a proclamation for a recall of a certain golden statuette should it fall into his hands. Unnecessarily and unsuccessfully returning to the well of playing multiple roles in the same film, Murphy and "Norbit" fail to deliver the laughs. The film rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed February 6, 2007 / Posted February 9, 2007

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