Waste of Talent

Eddie Murphy follows up some of his best work with some of his worst

If you're an Eddie Murphy fan, and you have a big smile on your face because he's experiencing some sort of career resurgence with his Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls, prepare to have that smile smacked right off your face: Norbit chases one of Murphy's career high points (I still say Trading Places was his career best) with possibly his worst film. It is full-on awful.

I won't blame Murphy for this. The man is super-talented. Somebody got the idea to return him to comedic form with another multi-character movie like Coming to America and The Nutty Professor, and it just went haywire. Seeing Murphy under pounds of Rick Baker makeup is always instantly amusing, but then he has to open his mouth and share the screen with others, so you'd better give him a script worth reading.

I'd be surprised to find out that Norbit even had a script. One of the three roles Murphy plays is the title character. When Norbit is a little boy, he loses his first love when she is adopted, and he winds up being roped into a marriage with Rasputia (also Murphy), a gigantic nightmare of a woman. When Norbit meets his first love again as an adult (Thandie Newton), he starts to grow a spine and attempts to liberate himself from the domineering wife.

The first glimpse of Murphy as Rasputia is surprising. The man disappears inside of the makeup Baker has concocted, and the fat suit he's created for this film is a major work of art. If Norbit were a movie even remotely worth watching, Baker would probably be a shoo-in for a makeup Oscar next year. As it stands, all involved would probably like to wipe this one from their résumés.

The attempts at humor here are abysmal. The only laughs Murphy generates in this film are when he's playing the nerdy Norbit, but we're not talking big guffaws--just a few mild chuckles. For the most part, Murphy's work is overbearing and unfortunate.

Murphy, one of cinema's all-time-great riffers and improvisers, resorts to squawking, strutting and stupid catchphrases ("How you doin'?") to milk laughs. It's painful to watch him struggle with this material. One gets the sense that the man just got tired after sitting in the makeup chair for hours, and he couldn't give it his best when the cameras were rolling. It doesn't help that Brian Robbins is directing, he of The Shaggy Dog fame. The man just doesn't know how to do funny, and Murphy has never seemed less funny.

Still, kudos to Baker for some of the most amazing makeup effects I've ever seen. Murphy's Rasputia fat suit takes full body makeup to a new, morbidly obese dimension. A scene where Rasputia heads to the water park in a two-piece is incredibly mundane, yet notable, because Baker's makeup is unbelievably realistic. Perhaps one of the problems of this picture is that Baker manages to make Murphy completely vanish. He's "made up" Murphy many times before, most notably in Coming to America and The Nutty Professor movies. This time out, he just erases the guy. (Murphy also plays Norbit's Asian adoptive father, in another unimpressive performance.)

As Norbit's love interest, Newton, a decent actress, seems totally lost in a slapstick comedy. Everything about her character is exaggerated, with the actress trying too hard to get laughs. That's two normally reliable performers that Robbins makes look like idiots.

Murphy is slated to make another movie with Robbins in the near future (Starship Dave). Let's hope that, despite the big box-office opening weekend, Norbit convinces Murphy that Robbins isn't worthy of his talents. I would rather see Beverly Hills Cop IV (another rumored project) rather than another collaboration with this hack.