Combustible Celluloid
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With: Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Terry Crews, Cuba Gooding Jr., Eddie Griffin, Clifton Powell, Katt Williams, Mighty Rasta, Floyd Levine, Anthony Russell, Pat Crawford Brown, Jeanette Miller, Marlon Wayans
Written by: Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Eddie Murphy, Charles Murphy
Directed by: Brian Robbins
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some nudity and language
Running Time: 102
Date: 02/09/2007

Norbit (2007)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Id Vicious

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Eddie Murphy's Norbit rolls out and repeats all the tried-and-true fat jokes and other stereotypes; one character can't fit behind the wheel of her car and blames her husband for mal-adjusting the seat. A cursory look at the film might lead one to dismiss it, or even forget about it entirely.

But something odd has happened. After 25 years as a major movie star, Eddie Murphy currently resides in that peculiar showbiz holding pattern that will result in his name being amended either with "Oscar-winner" or "Oscar nominee." And so we look at Norbit a little bit closer than we might under ordinary circumstances. What comes out is not what Murphy shows us, the jokes he co-wrote with his brother Charlie, the special effects, the fat suit, etc., but rather what he doesn't show us.

Murphy is a heavily shielded actor, a bit like Johnny Depp or Lon Chaney (Senior), more comfortable with heavy makeup, accents and layers than he is with naked truth. But when he feels protected and he cuts loose, he inadvertently reveals the real deal. Scholars long ago pointed out the Freudian personality split of Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor (1963) as well as Murphy's wildly successful 1996 remake and its brain-dead 2000 sequel. But with Norbit, Murphy narrows it down to essentials. Murphy plays three characters: the weak-willed Norbit (the Ego), raised in an orphanage, married to the monstrous, plus-size Rasputia (the Id), and the wise father figure, Mr. Wong (the Superego), who runs the orphanage.

The silly plot about Norbit falling in love with the "right" girl (Thandie Newton) or the part about the bad guys trying to turn the orphanage into a strip club is beside the point. The real thrill of Norbit is watching Murphy split into three and work out his innermost fears and desires right in front of us. He fears Rasputia but loves her bad behavior, while the sweet Norbit gets to bask in the audience's adoration. Murphy may bring down the house in Dreamgirls, but -- despite its crudities and obvious failures -- Freud would find Norbit significantly more interesting.

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