Perhaps worried that he might be taken seriously following his knockout performance in DREAMGIRLS, Eddie Murphy churned out yet another makeup-dependent, script-deficient comedy along the lines of DR. DOOLITTLE and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR — just the kind of junk that spoiled his reputation in the first place.
Unwanted by his birth parents and raised by Mr. Wong (Murphy) — the anti-Semitic and blatantly racist Asian-American owner of the Golden Wonton Orphanage/Chinese restaurant — bland, timid Norbit Albert Rice (Murphy, with a What's Happening! afro, an inexplicable Yiddish accent and a bad underbite), grows up under the thumb of obese, abusive bully Rasputia (Murphy), whose first words to Norbit prove to be her kindest: "You got a girlfriend? Well you do now! Get your ass up and hold my hand!" Rasputia's siblings, the notorious Latimore brothers, are a trio of overmuscled thugs who shake down local businesses for protection money and are as cruel to Norbit as their grotesque sister is. But the poor orphan is so grateful for any family at all that he agrees to marry his irredeemably vile and insanely jealous tormentor. Routinely kicked and punched in the face by every member of his new family and cuckolded by Rasputia's power-tap instructor, Buster Move (Marlon Wayans), the battered Norbit decides enough is enough when his true childhood sweetheart, Kate Thomas (Thandie Newton), glides back into his life. Having made a fortune with her own clothing line, the philanthropic but simpleminded Kate has returned home to buy the Golden Wonton, the same property where the Latimores want to build a topless bar. They haven't managed to strong-arm Mr. Wong into selling, but they have convinced Kate's dastardly fiance Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.) to fast-track the wedding so he can hand over the property and corral the lovesick Norbit into their evil plan.
Mean-spirited and depressing, this horror movie in comedy disguise delights in the twin spectacles of morbid obesity (unless the art of special-effects makeup has reached the level of human cloning, the scenes involving Rasputia virtually naked probably feature Murphy's head digitally grafted onto the body of a hugely overweight woman) and domestic abuse, of which children are often the target. (An early scene at the orphanage features kids nearly getting harpooned in the face by whaling enthusiast Mr. Wong.) Even more painful is Murphy's one-note performance as Rasputia, a monster who speaks in an unintelligible shriek and punctuates every sassy tirade with a pointed "How you doin'?" — a tiresome catchphrase we can only hope is destined for pop-culture oblivion. It all ends with Rasputia howling in pain, a spear sticking out of her ass. Moviegoers will leave feeling much the same way. leave a comment --Ken Fox