There are times when sitting in a near-empty movie theater can be nice. You’re 13, sitting beside Jnco-clad Bobby Thompson during “Scream 3,” and the two of you have just discovered how much fun making out can be. Or you’re a menopausal 50-year-old, blubbering your way through “The Bridges of Madison County.” It’s a good thing your husband didn’t accompany you, because your incessant nasal honkings would have scared him away forever. Or maybe you’re 70, and after telling your wife that you’re going out to buy some milk, you sneak into a late night screening of “On Golden Blonde.” But sitting through “Norbit” on a balmy New Haven afternoon (read: 40 degrees) is not one of these times.
Raised at the Golden Wonton, a Chinese restaurant and orphanage, Norbit (Eddie Murphy) is feeble, clueless and looking for a little love. After his soulmate gets adopted, he is left to bear the beatings of the schoolyard bullies. That is, of course, until the overweight and overwhelming Rasputia (Eddie Murphy) saves him from drowning in the sandbox.
“Get your ass up and hold my hand,” she demands, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But not exactly, because when his sickly-skinny soulmate Kate (Thandie Newton) returns, Norbit will do whatever his weak mind can think of to be with her.
In addition to its uninspired plot, “Norbit” is further impaired by mediocre comedy, insincere emotion and easily-forgotten performances. As he did in “Coming to America” and “The Nutty Professor,” Eddie Murphy dons the guise of several characters: the dim-witted, bullied Norbit, the dominating Rasputia and the restaurant owner slash orphanage manager Mr. Wong. But whereas his mastery of the mask in earlier movies led audiences to roll in the aisles, the only rolls here are the cellulite rolls hanging from every inch of Rasputia’s body. There are several scenes clearly included only for comedic purposes — the failed wedding night romp, the Marlon Wayans cameo as a tap dance workout instructor and Rasputia washing a car to Kelis’ “Milkshake” — but they all fall flat.
Most shocking, however, is the blatant racial stereotyping that pervades the film. Murphy’s character Mr. Wong is a myopic Chinese immigrant whose vocabulary is hindered by an l-to-r accent, while his Rasputia is a sexually dominant, emotionally persistent, loud-mouthed force of nature. Rasputia’s three brothers, one of whom is named Big Black Jack, are violent and intimidating thugs. And don’t forget Eddie Griffin’s role as a pimp named “Pope Sweet Jesus.”
If you do decide to waste nine dollars of your parents’ hard-earned cash to see “Norbit,” I’d suggest picking a theater with one or two families (they will all be near-empty; one or two families is the most you’ll get) who’ll be able to provide more entertainment than the film itself.
I was fortunate enough to sit behind a family of four who, before the movie even began, managed to spill two large sodas and upturn a large popcorn. During the movie, the father answered his cell phone, after letting it ring for 10 seconds. He then proceeded to carry out a one-minute conversation until his wife cast an evil glare in his direction. The charmer also kindly provided commentary to the film. His best line followed a scene in which Norbit laments how large his wife is and how much space she takes up in bed.
“Don’t I know the feeling!” the father exclaimed, once again to the dismay of his wife.
But even the antics of Family Doe failed to make the film’s 102 minutes worthwhile.