Studio: Dreamworks / Paramount
US Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some nudity and language
Canadian Rating: 14A for coarse language, crude content and sexual content
Film Length: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
Audio: English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (Digital Plus)
Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH+, French & Spanish subtitles
The Film - out of
Norbit is a rather simple tale of losing love, finding love, having no back bone and needing one badly. As the film opens, baby Noribit is tossed out of a moving car in front of a small town orphanage/Chinese restaurant, and it is here that he will spend his childhood. So timid and easily intimidated is Norbit, that when his friend, sweetheart and fellow orphan Kate (Thandie Newton) is adopted, he succumbs to the protection of the large, aggressive and over-bearing Rasputia.
Rasputia pulls the frail Norbit into her life with her three older, muscle ridden brothers. She dominates Norbit at every turn and eventually marries him.
The title character, played by the immensely talented Eddie Murphy is about as spineless as they come. So, when his childhood sweetheart moves back to town with dreams of buying the old orphanage from the racist Mr. Wong, the man that raised Norbit after he was unbecomingly discarded as a baby, Norbit finds himself torn.
There is no denying the comedic talent of Eddie Murphy. Following his multi-character portrayal success in Coming to America, the Nutty Professor and its sequel, his masterful turns at creating characters that are unique, lovable, obnoxious and now incredibly weak, have brought laughs and awe to theaters for decades.
In Norbit, Eddie plays three major characters, Norbit, Mr. Wong and the outrageously mean and grating Rasputia. While there are moments in this film that were actually very funny, they were too few and far between to overlook the movies failings as a whole. Most of the scenes seemed built around a single joke that was supposed to be a handy payoff, but most of the time fell flat. Part of that has to do with the timing that was oddly off, but most of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the script. It just wasn’t good enough.
Another issue with this film, one that is not limited to Norbit alone, is the strange combination of mean-spirited and adult themed jokes coupled with what looks and feels like a film trying earnestly to tug at the heart strings, all wrapped up in bright colors and a cute packaging typically carved out for child-friendly fare. This is not a film I would recommend for children or family viewing.
When a film goes awry, it’s never a good thing. But what compounds a failing and turns a disappointment into a genuine missed opportunity is when a film has amassed considerable talents for the peripheral characters. This film has a wonderful cast list, including Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris), Clifton Powell (The Gospel), Mighty Rasta (My Wife & Kids) as the Latimore boys, the town menaces and Rasputia’s protective brothers. Eddie Griffin (Date Movie) and Kat Williams (MTV’s Wild N Out) star as pimps (that now pimp Ribs rather than ‘ladies of the night’), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Boyz N the Hood) as Kate’s no-good fiancé and Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) in one of his most energetic and humorous character depictions. And there are more, but they are not focused on enough to balance out the rather dry, uninspired, tired and flat moments (of which there are far too many).
It’s not all doom and gloom for NORBIT, however, as the make-up effects by Rick Baker are phenomenal, as you might expect from the Star Wars veteran behind classic movie make-ups such as An American Werewolf in London and Men In Black. And this film is not totally devoid of funny, some of the physical comedy manages to work and Eddie Murphy as the snappy Rasputia hit’s his stride occasionally, but it’s like an ounce of water in the middle of the desert. It’s just not enough.
Framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p High Definition, Norbit looks really, really good. The masterful make-up by Rick Baker comes under the scrutiny of Hi-Def and clears it like a Nordic pole-vaulter! The film is filled with bright colors, sunny days and multiple scenes filmed on the what looks like the all-too clean Paramount backlot, each of these are represented with near flawless clarity, I have only the occasional grumble with some softness and grain on a few scenes, but besides that, Norbit looks sharp.
The surrounds have plenty to do in Norbit, and the Sub-Woofer plays its part in some of the gags, but the dialogue coming from the center-channel was far too low in comparison. Overall the sounds came off a little flat in too many places. Not a total loss because when it needed to, the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 kicked in and did the trick, but again, overall it lacked a presence and depth that ultimately disappoints.
The Making of NORBIT – HD (21:31) – Behind the scenes conversations with the Director and cast is reasonably insightful. Oddly, however, the snippets with Eddie Murphy are not in HD as with the rest of this extra feature. The director and cast speak affectionately about the film they are making, which doesn’t help the feeling that NORBIT, while a commercial success, is a big disappointment.
Man of 1,000 Faces (4:07) – As you might expect, these few minutes cover the make-up process that helped Eddie Murphy create his technically marvelous characters.
Power Tap - HD (4:48) – Pulling together his ‘Power Tap’ scenes from the film along with ‘in-character’ interview clips, this fake infomercial is good for a chuckle or two.
The Stunts of NORBIT - HD (11:49) – Conversations with the stunt-personnel and stunt-doubles on the various scenes in the film that relied upon stunt-related sight gags.
14 Deleted Scenes – HD (8:07) – Some are short and easily forgettable but there are a couple of deleted moments from the film that help round out some of the jokes that were kept in, helping the gag timing and letting us see more of the talented supporting cast.
Photo Gallery – 59 Pictures – Stills from the film.
Theatrical Trailer – HD (1:56). Sadly, in trailer form, NORBIT works far better than it does as a full length feature.
You could argue that Eddie Murphy is long past his heyday, relying on overly crass, effects-filled films to market his comedy to the masses. That may have some truth to it, but I think awkward and disappointing films like Norbit are simply mistakes that belie the true talents of one of comedies greatest living members. His recent award-winning portrayal of the rambunctious James ‘Thunder’ Early in the wonderful ‘Dreamgirls’ is proof enough that he has an interesting road ahead of him and hiccups like Norbit (and Holy Man and Pluto Nash, etc) are simply stumbles on that road to better things.
I don’t think we will see films that match the vast talent of Coming to America, Trading Places, 48 Hours or Beverly Hills Cop, but with choices like Boomerang a few years back, doing the voice of Donkey in the Shrek phenomenon and Dreamgirls, the future is very bright for Mr. Murphy.
At the end of the day, I have to recommend Norbit be passed over in favor of some of the classic films in Eddie’s repertoire. You won’t be disappointed or nearly as offended by what happens on screen and it’ll be two hours of your life that you won’t yearn to be given back to you.
Note: If you are interested in an assessment of the Blu-Ray release of this title, check out Kevin EK's forum review at this link.
If you are interested in an assessment of the Standard DVD release of this title, check out Justin Cleveland's forum review at this link.