The case for euthanising Eddie Murphy
Above: Dear god, why?
I thought it would be a long time before I came across a film worse than Dr. Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead. Now, however, thanks to the magic of Amazon’s rental service, I’ve found one.
As you may have noticed, my HD Image Quality Rankings list includes several films that I myself don’t own. The reason for this is that I like to keep abreast of developments in HD-land by renting and checking out as many titles as possible. I don’t always manage to watch them all the way through, but usually I can get a reasonably good impression of how a particular disc measures up within a few minutes. And, if the film happens to be particularly good - or bad - I’ll be more inclined to stick with it for the duration. Late last year, I became aware that a particular film had been released on HD DVD (and Blu-ray). Its name was Norbit, it starred Eddie Murphy, and it brought with it a reputation so abhorrent that I just knew it and myself would cross paths one day.
No escape clause, unfortunately.
As you will know if you have been reading my brother’s site, he is shortly to be the proud owner of a projector. You’ll probably also be aware that projector bulbs aren’t cheap, which means that, every time you use it, you can almost hear the pennies dropping out of your wallet and hitting the ground. The notion of using some of the bulb’s valuable power on a film like Norbit wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but we eventually reached a deal: Norbit could be viewed on the projector, but only on the condition that I wrote a full-length review of it.
However, the best-laid plans of mice and men and all that… One of the problems with online DVD rental programmes is that you often don’t know which title you’ll be receiving next. I had banked on Norbit not reaching me until the projector had safely arrived and been installed, so imagine my surprise (and faint feelings of nausea) when it turned up yesterday. (For some reason, this title does not appear to have been in high demand.) Realising, however, that, if I returned the disc or held on to it until the projector arrived, I would have wasted one of my precious monthly rental slots, I decided to bite the bullet and watch Norbit anyway, projector or no projector.
Fifteen minutes in, my brother turned to me and said “You know, it’s okay if you want to just tear up the contract.”
I persevered, however. What sort of watcher of bad movies would I be if I let a little thing like Norbit scare me away? Besides, I knew that my loyal readers would be waiting on tenterhooks for my verdict…
Norbit is yet another low-brow comedy in which Eddie Murphy dons a fat suit and plays several different characters. One of these is the titular Norbit, a weedy, pathetic little man who is married to Rasputia (also Murphy), a virtual elephant of a woman with a personality as foul as her odour. Norbit is an orphan, who was brought up by a Chinese man named Mr. Wong (Murphy, again, this time in yellowface). Mr. Wong’s orphanage is up for sale, and the prospective owners include Rasputia’s three vicious brothers, who plan to turn it into a titty bar and make Norbit’s life hell at the same time. The other is Kate (Thandie Newton), a fellow orphan and the love of poor, browbeaten Norbit’s miserable life. (Can you say “ahhhh”?) Oh, but she’s engaged to Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr., who can currently be seen stepping into dear old Eddie Murphy’s shoes in Daddy Day Camp, the follow-up to that masterpiece, Daddy Day Care), who is in league with the evil brothers! Will this delightful fairytale romance have a happy ending, or will Norbit have his face smashed in with a rusty hook? (I know which I’d prefer.)
Norbit’s humour is best summed up as a never-ending series of fat jokes that aren’t funny, with copious amounts of toilet humour and a healthy dose of racism thrown in for good measure. As an example of what passes for a gag in this supposed comedy, let’s take the scene in which, having failed to carry his overweight bride over the threshold (because she’s fat), Norbit stands quaking in his boots in the bedroom as the delightful Rasputia thunders towards him. She lands on top of him, the force throwing him backwards on to the bed (because she’s fat), at which point the bed collapses (because she’s fat). Safe in the knowledge that the audience will find this absolutely hysterical, the filmmakers then proceed to repeat the exact same gag three times, the only differences being the various costumes that the two Eddies are wearing. Oh, and, on the final occasion, the bed doesn’t collapse, because it has been reinforced with concrete. You laughing yet?
Take, for another example, the film’s witty wordplay. At the wedding reception, the delightful Mr. Wong, delivering the best man’s speech, tells the guests that he is sad for Norbit because he is married to a gorilla. The aforementioned gorilla’s family take exception to this, at which point Wong hastily reassures them that he is only kidding.
That’s the joke.
No really, that’s it. The entire film is one long series of build-ups without any punchlines. Each time the writers provide us with a situation, we continually assume that it’s going somewhere, but it never does. At the same wedding, it is discovered that a slice is missing from the wedding cake. Cut to a shot of Rasputia with icing and sponge all over her face. You assume that the laughs will come from either her or the other characters’ reactions. Instead, the film carries on to the next scene. “Norbit!” screams the cover art. “Funny!” is hollers underneath. I assure you, it is anything but.
Oh, and before I forget, I must take the time to mention that Mr. Wong is easily the single most racist creation I can remember seeing in a film in god knows how long. Why Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips continues to be suppressed while Eddie Murphy is allowed to paint himself yellow and utter all manner of inanities in a guttural voice (hilariously substituting “r” for “l”, by the way - gotta love the attention to detail) is a mystery to me. You get the impression that perhaps the filmmakers were aware that this portrayal of a Chinese man might be a tad offensive, so they attempt to offset this late in the game by revealing that Wong is in fact a screaming racist himself (“Yes, Wong very racist. Don’t like black. Don’t like Jew either. But black and Jew love Chinese food. Go figure.”), which, judging by the inverse logic to which the writers clearly ascribe (the same logic which allows them to mistake “devoid of humour” for “full of humour”), presumably means that everything’s okay. I should probably point out that, if a white actor dressed up as a Chinese man and made these sort of “jokes” in this day and age, he would probably be lynched. However, Eddie Murphy, as a member of a minority group, seems to have a licence to offend every other minority group under the sun.
The rest of the film is made up of the same sort of inane gibberish and schoolyard bullshit that a kindergartener could have come up with. I could be charitable and say that Rick Baker’s make-up effects are impressive (Murphy’s transformation into Mr. Wong is nothing short of completely convincing), but that’s like dishing out accolades for coming up with a completely authentic recreation of faecal matter which even smells like the real thing. It wasn’t funny when Murphy did it in his remake of The Nutty Professor and it sure as hell isn’t funny now. This is a tedious, mean-spirited, nasty, unfunny, noxious, loathsome, fucking tragic waste of celluloid. Baron Scarpia, I lay down the gauntlet.
Victoria Alexander in her review for FilmsInReview.com (one of the only positive appraisals I could find) crowed about how the film “celebrat[es] a big black woman who has not been victimized by a non-achievable, absurd standard of beauty fostered upon black and white women”. Assuming she wasn’t being ironic, then I can only lament for a culture that actually considers Rasputia to be a positive portrayal of a fat black woman.
Oh, and to add insult to injury, the HD DVD transfer is flawless.