- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

Suffice to say Eddie Murphy won’t be generating Oscar buzz for his latest feature. Mr. Murphy’s “Norbit” is a stark reminder of where he stood prior to his Oscar nomination for “Dreamgirls.” That means rubbery makeup, generic slapstick and, of course, flatulence humor.

But Mr. Murphy has only himself to blame, since he co-wrote and co-produced this story that hinges on him prancing around in a fat suit.

Someday very soon a group representing overweight Americans is going to file a class action lawsuit against Mr. Murphy and Martin Lawrence for that actor’s “Big Momma” films.

Until then, we’re stuck with “Norbit,” which lets Mr. Murphy play three roles for the price of one ticket.

So much for quality over quantity.

Poor Norbit (Mr. Murphy) has never had it easy. His mother abandoned tiny Norbit on the side of the road, but he was discovered by a kindly Chinese man (also Mr. Murphy) who raised the infant as his own son.

With his peculiar speech patterns and painfully uncool glasses, Norbit floats through life with a target on his back.

Then, one day, a chunky girl takes pity on Norbit, starting a courtship which ends in marriage. Rasputia (Mr. Murphy, buried in believable fat prosthetics) is loud, opinionated and as strong as a dozen men. And she has Norbit right where she wants him, under her swollen thumb.

It’s all Norbit can do to survive Rasputia’s moods, but the clouds part when an old childhood friend named Kate (an irresistible Thandie Newton) returns to town.

Dare Norbit dream of leaving Rasputia for Kate? Not if Kate’s nefarious fiance (Cuba Gooding Jr.) or Rasputia’s wicked brothers have any say in the matter.

Mr. Murphy’s Norbit is as thinly sketched as Rasputia is rotund. A mealy-mouthed expression and bizarre speech patterns do not a character make, and why on earth Kate would so much as glance his way is inexplicable.

The comedian comes alive as Rasputia, a full-figured gal who’s brave enough to wear a bikini to a wave park. But her rages are so exaggerated it’s hard to fathom why Norbit doesn’t file for a protection order. Had Rasputia been ornery, not bloodthirsty, the comedy might not have left audiences squirming.

“Norbit” wants to be a frothy comedy, but its meanness keeps getting in the way. Norbit’s father calls Rasputia a “gorilla” repeatedly, a pair of pimp characters interrupt the action with stale bits, and one slapstick smashup puts Norbit in a hospital.

What’s so funny about head trauma?

Somehow, “Norbit” finds its purpose toward the finale, staging a church sequence with music, humor and heart.

It’s too little, too late, but we appreciate the gesture.

**

TITLE: “Norbit”

RATING: PG-13 (Adult language, sexual situations, comic violence and flatulence humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Brian Robbins. Story by Eddie Murphy and Charles Murphy.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: www.meetnorbit.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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