Norbit (2007)

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Norbit
Dir. Brian Robbins
Premiered February 9, 2007

How the hell did we get here?

Like Epic Movie, I hesitated to watch this movie, making sure my roommates had all left for Thanksgiving before popping the DVD in. And like Epic Movie, I wasn’t really in a position to discuss this film’s importance. It’s become a cliché that Eddie Murphy’s career post-1988 has been “revenge” for some award snub or other; that he was once the biggest star on the planet, the top comedian in a decade when comedians were bigger than rock stars, and that those days are never coming back. But I’m mostly unfamiliar with Murphy’s filmography, even the good ones.

However, Norbit does have an important place in the history of Hollywood: it marks the point at which bad comedies became a genre unto itself, with their own tropes, visual style, and cadre of anonymous directors. In the case of Norbit, that director is Brian Robbins, who went on to direct Murphy’s zero-percenter A Thousand Words. If the leaked Sony emails are anything to go by, studios don’t want to make these movies. Why they have to is unknown.

Norbit (Eddie Murphy) is a simpering, lisping 1950s-style nerd who spends most of his life in an unpleasant relationship with the hideous gangland princess Rasputia (alsoB Eddie Murphy). This is extremely weird as both Norbit and Rasputia are also played by child actors free of any affectation, so when Rasputia eventually becomes preening, hateful, adulterous, and abusive, it comes right the fuck out of nowhere. Murphy also plays Norbit’s horrifyingly racist Chinese adoptive father.

When Norbit’s childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton) comes back to town with her fiancé (Cuba Gooding Jr.), he tries to leave Rasputia, only for Rasputia to lie about being pregnant. Sparks fly between Norbit and Kate, leading to… you know what, fuck it. The movie doesn’t care. I don’t care. With it’s CG pratfalls, cringe-inducingly racist humor, lots of flat jokes at the expense of overweight children, I was totally prepared to unleash my fury on this film, but the whole is so empty and flaccid that I can’t care.

Watching this, Murphy seemed like he was being held hostage to make this movie, but on closer inspection I discovered that he and his brother Charlie wrote the screenplay. I don’t know why anyone would write this, but it’s revealing in how Murphy views the world and himself. Maybe. Fuck this movie.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
The Pussycat Dolls and Kelis’ “Milkshake” are prominently featured. Two characters are pimps and it’s no big deal. Pubic hair is depicted as inherently disgusting and undesirable. Actually, this movie seems to be set in 2005.

How Did It Do?
Norbit infamously received an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup. Mind you, Best Makeup is one of the squirrelier categories, and you can’t fault Rick Baker for doing his job well. But you can fault global audiences for making it the biggest movie of February 2007, grossing a truly astonishing $159.3 million against an equally astonishing $60 million budget. Critics rightfully hated it, earning the film a 9% fresh rating on RT. Murphy had recently received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Dreamgirls, and many critics believed that Norbit would cost him that prize. He didn’t win, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if that was why.

Next Time: Operation Homecoming

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