Running Time: 102 mins
Rated: Rated M.
Eddie Murphy's Norbit is a rare film in the talented actor-comedian's canon, a comedy that for all the film's razzamatazz, high production values, and wealth of acting talent, fails the laugh test and is unfunny. Murphy has a zany genius for splitting himself into multiple personas, as his best work attests (Saturday Night Live on American TV which catapulted him into stardom, Coming To America, and The Nutty Professor 1 and 2). But in Norbit, this cleaving himself into three (which one American reviewer likened to Freud's id, ego, superego), fails dismally.
Scripted from a storyline by Eddie and his brother Charles Murphy, Norbit is about an orphan, Norbit Albert Rice (Murphy) who as a baby is thrown from his parents' speeding car outside the Golden Wonton Restaurant in Boiling Springs, Tennessee, where he is raised along with other orphans by the kindly Mr Wong (Eddie Murphy), who has a fiercely practical and clear-sighted view about life.
Also abandoned at the Golden Wonton is Kate (played as an adult by Thandie Newton), who becomes Norbit's best friend and soul-mate until she is adopted. Alone and friendless, the nerdy Norbit is bullied mercilessly in the school yard until he is rescued one day by a hulking ten-year-old called Rasputia (Eddie Murphy), who becomes his 'protector', and eventually his wife.
Monstrously fat, Rasputia knows no moderation in her appetites, either for food or sex. Dominated by her, and forced to work for her three brutish brothers whose construction company is a front for thuggery and extortion, Norbit's life is a living nightmare, until one day Kate returns to Boiling Springs with her seemingly devoted fiancée Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr).
Thin and beautiful, Kate wants to buy the orphanage from Mr Wong who is retiring, but Rasputia's brothers have plans to turn the Golden Wonton into a 'titty-bar' called The Nipplopolis. Can Norbit summon the inner strength needed to declare his love for Kate, and rescue her from the dastardly intentions of an insanely jealous Rasputia, her bullying brothers, and the feckless Deion? The answer is tedious and predictable.
Norbit has crude humour, but little wit. Most of the jokes revolve around Rasputia's fatness: her inability to fit behind the wheel of her car, her crash-landings on top of Norbit in their connubial bed, her grotesque nudity in a bikini, and her creation of giant waves as she descends on a water slide in a fairground to the sound of Wagner's 'Ride of the Walkyre.'
Thandie Newton, on the other hand, is cast as the epitome of girly chic, and looks as wanly skeletal as a model on a catwalk while simpering prettily. Yet beyond these 'politically incorrect' observations, it is hard to see what Murphy is really driving at.
One American reviewer has seen Murphy's split into three personas (the out-of-control Rasputia, the immature Norbit, and worldly-wise Mr Wong), as being an manifestation of Freud's theory of the id, ego, and super-ego. Whatever the truth of this, Norbit makes for poor entertainment and lacklustre art, an accusation that can't be leveled at Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, even by his detractors.
Mrs Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.