- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

When Eddie Murphy was still a relatively new star, it seemed only a matter of time before he would see the time-traveling, tailor-made merits in remakes of such vintage comedies as "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" or "Monsieur Beaucaire."
Now it appears that Martin Lawrence is the more likely explorer when it comes to costume farce. He covers the Connecticut Yankee pretext from an outpost in Los Angeles in "Black Knight."
Cast as the anachronistic title character, Mr. Lawrence generates fitful but agreeable amusement around the misadventures of Jamal Walker, a self-centered functionary at a lackluster amusement park who discovers heroism as a fantastic interloper in 14th-century England. The portal between now and then appears to be the park's moat, which swallows Jamal when he tries to retrieve a golden necklace espied gleaming in the muck. He resurfaces in a picturesque river and discovers that the year is 1328, evidently an arbitrary choice.
Mistaken for a Moorish messenger from Normandy, Jamal quips that it's close enough he resides near Fourth and Normandie in Los Angeles. Having befriended a knight in distress Tom Wilkinson as a once-peerless warrior named Nolte Marlboro, perhaps a facetious homage to both the actor and the cigarette Jamal awards himself the honorific "Skywalker" and insinuates himself as a guest of a gruff and corrupt king, Leo, played by Kevin Conway. Ultimately, Jamal becomes the indispensable inside man in an insurrection led by the rehabilitated Nolte in the service of a deposed queen.
"Black Knight" is content to be a slapdash and inane movie farce, but it's also cheerful and harmless and a welcome improvement on the recent "A Knight's Tale," which traded on bombast rather than unpretentious silliness.
Mr. Lawrence is game for stuff that doesn't depend entirely on racial or period incongruities. He's up for some gags on horseback and while hefting a broadsword. He does an admirable job pretending to be dazed and confused moments after the mounted and armored Jamal takes a whack to the head that simultaneously knocks off his helmet and lands him on his rump.
Improvising a song-and-dance number with the court combo during dinner also proves a gratuitous inspiration. The Lawrence team doesn't plunge into historical mockery with the sort of gusto and confidence that Mel Brooks could demonstrate on "The History of the World, Part I," but they're not bad for beginners. You would like to think more practice would pay off in a more consistent entertainment.
There also are unexpected grace notes: Randy Edelman's score goes on a few lush tangents that seldom are heard in farcical surroundings, and Marsha Thomason emerges as a very attractive leading lady. Just sharing the screen with Miss Thomason seems to make Mr. Lawrence look more admirable.


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