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Norbit (2007)

Paramount Home Entertainment/Dreamworks Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/5/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted  6/3/2007

On February 25, 2007, Alan Arkin was presented with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, beating out, among others, Eddie Murphy, who had been nominated for his work in Dreamgirls. Going into the ceremony, many considered Murphy to be the front-runner for this title. Following the loss, rumors began that Murphy had been denied the honor due to the fact that his latest film Norbit had opened just two weeks before. Not only had it opened, but it opened at Number 1, pulling in some $34 million at the box-office. Is there any truth to this rumor? We will never know, but one thing's for sure: If a movie can create that much controversy, it's worth delving into.

The titular character in Norbit begins his life by being left with Mr. Wong (Eddie Murphy), who runs a combination Chinese restaurant and orphanage. Norbit lives at the orphanage and soon becomes friends with Kate. The two are inseparable until the day when Kate is adopted. Following this, Norbit unwillingly becomes friends with Rasputia, an overweight demanding girl. Norbit (Eddie Murphy) stays with Rasputia (played as adult by Eddie Murphy) and they are eventually married. Norbit takes a job with Rasputia's brothers, who run a shady construction company (they also intimidate local businessmen into paying for protection). Norbit isn't really happy being dominated by the brash and loud Rasputia, but he doesn't know any other life.

Things change when Kate (Thandie Newton) comes back to town. Norbit is ecstatic to see her and his old romantic feelings for Kate suddenly return. He is pleased to hear that she is going to buy the orphanage from Mr. Wong, but shocked to learn that she's brought her fiance, Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) with her. Seeing Kate again makes Norbit realize just how horrible Rasputia and her family are. But what can he do against a group of insane people who threaten him at every turn?

Browsing the 'net, I found one thing to be true about Norbit: A lot of people hate this movie. And, having seen the film, it's easy to see why. Norbit is one of the most violent, mean-spirited comedies that I've seen in a long time. It makes the work of the Farrelly Brothers look very tame in comparison. With this film, Eddie Murphy, along with his brother Charlie Murphy (both are credited with the film's story and are co-writers of the screenplay) some of the most repulsive film characters that we've ever seen. Rasputia goes beyond simply being a villain. She embodies all that is evil and she mistreats everyone around her. In contrast, Norbit may be the wimpiest cuckold to ever grace the screen. Rasputia constantly dishes out abuse and Norbit takes it, making both characters very difficult to like.

In addition to this, the humor comes from a dark place and most of the jokes aim to be racy or offensive. Rasputia's size and weight are the targets of many of these jokes. Anyone who considers fat jokes to be offensive should stay miles away from this film. Mr. Wong goes far beyond an Asian stereotype. The movie also has an incredible number of violent jokes, as Rasputia literally beats Norbit, in addition to jokes involving Norbit falling off of a bike.

But, having said all of that, the movie is funny. I don't lend credence to the term "guilty pleasure" when it comes to movies (If you like, like it and don't feel bad about it.), but Norbit is one of those films where I hated myself for laughing at the jokes. Yes, nearly 100% of this film is in bad taste, but some of the gags are very humorous. Despite the fact that I'd seen Rasputia going down the waterslide in the trailer, the scene in the film still made me laugh. There are some good lines from Mr. Wong, and Marlon Wayans has an interesting cameo as a lascivious tap-dance instructor. The show is nearly stolen by Eddie Griffin and Katt Williams who portray a pair of reformed pimps who now own a bar-b-q joint. Their characters are oddly out of place in the tranquil town Boiling Springs, Tennessee, but the townspeople don't seem to mind them and they have some great lines. Norbit may be spineless and his voice grating, but in the end, he comes off as sweet, and this measure of humanity works in the film's favor.

And now back to Eddie Murphy and the Oscars. Did Norbit cause him to lose the Academy Award for Dreamgirls? I honestly don't know, but here's an even more radical idea. I think that Murphy should some kind of award for Norbit. As with his films Coming to America and The Nutty Professor, Murphy does an amazing job portraying multiple characters here. Granted, Rick Baker's special effects make-up does a lot of the work (and he should definitely get an Oscar nod for this movie), it's Murphy who brings the characters to life. I knew going in that Murphy played Norbit and Rasputia, but I wasn't aware of the Mr. Wong character and it took me a few minutes to realize that this wasn't actually an older Chinese man. Murphy's use of voices and mannerisms remains very impressive and even if you hate every frame of this movie, you've got to admit that the man is a genius at creating new personas.

If nothing else, Norbit is an interesting movie and one which is sure to elicit discussion afterwards. I can definitely see why some people are predicting that it will sweep the 2007 Razzie awards. The movie is about as far from light-hearted as one can get and the bawdy nature of the movie is sure to offend many viewers. On the other hand, Norbit contains some genuinely funny moments, and while it's not an Eddie Murphy classic, it shows that he can still be funny. The movie may go too far at times, especially with Rasputia, whose attempts to make "How you doin'?" a catch-phrase fall very flat, but it made me laugh.no matter how bad I felt about it.

Norbit gets abused on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate versions, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 Tvs. The image looks good, as it's free from intrusive grain and there are no defects from the source material. The movie was shot in a very natural style and the colors look very good, most notably the garish outfits favored by Rasputia. The picture has a nice amount of depth and the framing appears to be accurate. I noted some mild video noise at times, and some scenes appeared a bit dark, but otherwise the transfer is fine. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are subtle, but adequate and there is some nice of surround sound from music cues and from crowd noises. The subwoofer comes into play several times in the film when the sound of Rasputia's footsteps are exaggerated.

The Norbit DVD contains a mixed assortment of extras. "The Making of Norbit" (21 minutes) contains comments from all of the principal cast and crew. There is some talk of the script's development and then an overview of the actors and their characters. The piece also examines the visual FX and special effects make-up. Unfortunately, save for some comments from the Murphy's concerning a viral video, we really don't get a good idea of from where the ideas for the movie came. "Man of 1,000 Faces" (4 minutes) looks at the special effects make-up from the film and features comments from Rick Baker as well as time-lapse photography of the make-up being applied to Murphy. Marlon Wayans is featured in "Power Tap" (5 minutes), which is a fake infomercial for his character's workout video. Stunt coordinator Andy Gill and director Brian Robbins discuss the physical comedy in the film with "The Stunts of Norbit" (12 minutes). The DVD contains 14 DELETED SCENES, which run about 8 minutes. All of them are very brief and incidental, but there are a few funny moments here. The extras are rounded out by a PHOTO GALLERY and the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long