Eddie Murphy has taken his love for playing multiple roles, his love for Jerry Lewis (who also loved playing multiple roles), his love for racial humor, his love for crude humor, his love for himself, and — to be charitable — his deeply conflicted feelings about women, and made a movie that is disgusting, unfunny, dull, and an appalling waste of talent.
Its only entertainment value is in a couple of good gospel songs and its only shred of interest is as a disturbing piece of forensic evidence to help explain why one of the most talented and successful stars of the 1980’s has been making nothing but kiddie movies. Any respect he engendered by his comeback performance in Dreamgirls will be obliterated by the creepy non-funniness of this atrocity.
Eddie Murphy plays the title character, a nerdy wimp raised in an orphanage, by the choleric Chinese Mr. Wong (also Murphy). The only bright spot in his childhood is is friendship with Kate. After she is adopted, he has no one, until a large girl named Rasputia shows up and tells him he’s her boyfriend. When he grows up, he goes to work for her three thug brothers, who make a living doing construction and shaking down local businesses. And he marries Rasputia (Murphy again), now with huge, heavy rolls of fat and long, long nails.
Kate (Thandie Newton) shows up, planning to buy the orphanage and run it with her fiance, Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Is Deion sincere in his affection for Kate? Will Norbit find the courage to tell her how he feels? Will we have to see Rasputia in a skimpy bathing suit covered by rolls of fat? And getting a bikini wax?
I so wish I did not know the answers to these questions. I’d love to be able to eject all memories of this movie from my head.
Newton is so slender she makes Audrey Hepburn look like a linebacker. It’s as though she is trying to diet herself into invisibility, understandable given the hideous misogyny of the film and the thanklessness of her role. The closest thing to a bright moment comes from Eddie Giffin and Katt Williams as pimps named Pope Sweet Jesus and Lord Have Mercy. They do more with less material than Rasputia does with her skimpy lingerie.
Murphy’s real face, as the Norbit character, looks oddly stretched. And, though the story takes place in Tennessee, Norbit has a slight New York accent that echoes Jerry Lewis. His characters are all about the externals, shtick-ish and superficial.
In one scene, Norbit puts on a puppet show for the children and can’t help himself from turning it into a crude fight about infidelity. You get the sense that this is what Murphy is doing here, with the characters he plays the puppets he is using to express some of his anger at the people who want something from him, especially those rapacious women.
Murphy’s idol, Richard Pryor, had the same facilty for creating characters. And, like Murphy, he had some anger issues. But all of Murphy’s meticulous observation of Pryor missed the key point — Pryor brought a depth of understanding, humanity, and compassion to his characters — even a drug addict, even a neighbor’s dog that killed his favorite pet monkeys, even a crack pipe, even, though also the subject of some of his anger, himself. Murphy keeps it superficial and self-servingly egotistical, with characters and situations barely enough to sustain a seven-minute skit. No matter how many characters he plays, they are as artificial as Rasputia’s nails. Under the latex there is nothing but more latex.
Parents should know that this is an extremely crude and vulgar film, with much of the humor based on the idea of having sex with an enormously overweight woman. Two characters are pimps and there are references to prostitutes and paying for sex, to “old pervs,” and to a bar with nude entertainment. There is brief nudity. Characters use crude and strong language and racial epithets and insults, including inappropriate material in front of children.
Families who are interested in this film will probably prefer the better slob- comedies-with-heart Shallow Hal, Saving Silverman, The Jerk, and Big Mama’s House. They will also enjoy Murphy’s best work, on “Saturday Night Live” and in 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop and some of the Jerry Lewis films that inspired him, like Cinderfella.