Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Have you ever made a really big mistake?" asks the tagline for this movie. If you're Eddie Murphy, you'll have made several, and really ought to know better; but here he is, all the same, the man who revived his career as a performing donkey, making several mistakes at once. Norbit gives him the chance to play several characters - the eponymous hero; the elderly orphanage owner Mr Wong; and the hero's wife, Rasputia. This he does with a certain flair, and there's no danger of getting these characters confused. It's obvious, though, that nothing appeals to him quite so much as dressing up as a woman. Though the film begs us to despise Rasputia for her aggression, her crudity and her obesity, this is essentially pantomime, and the vigour with which Murphy plays her simply reminds one that there ain't nothin' like a dame.

The ease with which one can find oneself liking Rasputia is ultimately one of the film's biggest problems, as this is the story of an abusive relationship. Norbit, an orphan, has always been in love with Kate (a charming but largely personality-free Thandie Newton), but they haven't seen each other for years and in the meantime he's married Rasputia. She offered him protection and family; curiously, it's harder to see what he offered her.

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Now that he's met Kate again he longs to find a way out of the situation (if he can bypass the problem of her engagement to Cuba Gooding Jr's cheerfully sleazy venture capitalist, Deion). This is understandably distressing for Rasputia, so in order to keep sympathy on Norbit's side the script has to make her as monstrous as possible. Not only do we see her cheating on her husband, we see her beating him up, imprisoning him, etc. Now imagine this situation with the sexes of the characters reversed and tell me if you can see where the comedy would come from? It's satire, true, but it walks a very fine line and doesn't always get it right. What sometimes works as boisterous physical comedy is, at other times, the wrong kind of ugly.

Where Norbit does deliver is in terms of having a well-constructed, well-paced story with several subplots which mean there's always something extra going on. If you're going to be offended by jokes about fat people, you shouldn't go to see it in the first place; if you do find that sort of thing amusing, rest assured, it doesn't pull any punches. The humour here is crude but honest and is played with an absolute confidence which carries it further than it really deserves to go.

Eddie Griffin and Kat Williams have fun as Norbit's pimpin' buddies from the orphanage and most of the bit-part actors acquit themselves well. Sadly, there are too many occasions on which the scriptwriters clearly weren't able to think of anything to say and so substituted Rasputia shouting and flapping her arms about instead. This kind of weakness ultimately leads to tedium just when the story should be at its most engaging.

As crude comedies go, there are certainly worse ones out there than this; but there's no particular reason to recommend this, either. Its production values are really low, bright colours hardly compensating for shoddy camerawork. The story is nothing we haven't seen before. Most people will find its humour unpleasant and those who don't will like it better after they've had a few beers, which isn't really something cinema ought to depend on.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2007
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Meeting his childhood sweetheart again after 20 years, mild-mannered accountant Norbit has just one problem - his terrifying wife.
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Director: Brian Robbins

Writer: Jay Scherick, David Ronn

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terry Crews, Eddie Griffin, Katt Williams

Year: 2007

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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