Feel no woe for Eddie Murphy if he complains in any Norbit interview about the sweaty hell of a fat suit. He’s getting eight figures and there likely are enough fans inside to cool even his elbows.
No such compensation or relief awaits anyone actually watching the movie. Murphy’s latest comedy is a more aggressively unpleasant, unfunny needle under the fingernail than his usual. It’s certainly the sweatiest hell we’ve sat through with the once-charming comedy star in 20 years.
Save the argument that he’s making movies for kids because Norbit wears its PG-13 rating like pants with an elastic waistband. (It appealed an original R, likely awarded for gross pubic-wax jokes and mean Chinese snuff-film wisecracks.)
It’s been some time since Murphy was on Saturday Night Live, but he’s now made a movie about a character better confined to the dead zone of that show’s final 15 minutes. It’s not Murphy’s titular man — a sweet nerd with an Afro and a dying gnat’s self-confidence. It’s his psycho wife, Rasputia (Murphy in padding and makeup), rendered so grotesquely loud and obnoxious as to make Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence look like TrimSpa success stories and more subtle actors.
Tossed from a speeding car, Norbit was raised by Mr. Wong (Murphy, yet again), proprietor of a combination Chinese restaurant and orphanage. And once Norbit’s childhood sweetheart Kate got adopted, Norbit ends up “romantically” aligned with Rasputia, an abusive bully on all fronts whose “love” feels about one step above prison rape. Her repetitive catchphrase is “How you doin’?”
Perhaps because he feared the consequences of “no,” Norbit eventually marries this shrill shrew who, with her beefy brothers (Terry Crews, Clifton Powell and Lester “Rasta” Speight), rules over Boiling Springs, Tenn. with force and fear. Even as she cheats, Norbit can’t break from her.
When a grown-up Kate (Thandie Newton) returns to buy the orphanage from a tired Mr. Wong, Norbit’s spirits soar. But Kate’s smarmy fiancé Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is in tow, and her interest in the orphanage angers Rasputia’s brothers, eager to turn it into a strip club called Nipplopolis. The plot of Norbit, as skinny as Rasputia is super-sized, meshes a real-estate conspiracy with Norbit’s wispy wooing of Kate and Rasputia’s angry reactions.
If “directing” means “taking money to get out of Murphy’s way,” Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) helms this shapeless, senseless comedy. Other than paydays, the only reason for Norbit’s existence is to again showcase makeup master Rick Baker’s work. As always, it’s professionally applied, but a co-writing Murphy (along with brother Charlie and hacks Jay Scherick and David Ronn) seems to have thrown together a script in between chair time without much use of his hands.
The film is filled with torturously long, random, failed gags about a crippled dog talking to Norbit, pimps named Pope Sweet Jesus and Lord Have Mercy (Eddie Griffin and Katt Williams) who now own a rib joint and — in a passed-torch nod to other once-funny black comedians who make terrible movies — Marlon Wayans as a sex-obsessed fitness guru. Plus, many of Rasputia’s big-girl bits feel ripped from Date Movie, a 2006 parody movie that was awful to start with.
Murphy titles such as Holy Man, I Spy and Daddy Day Care account for more than a day of life wasted to rue from a deathbed. Still, many of us eventually will die knowing Murphy once was a fast-talking funnyman, an inventive comedian who made audiences delirious with laughter. Baited by candy-colored, empty-calorie junk like Norbit, our kids will never know what that felt like.