With Rocky Balboa in cinemas now, it must be the time for comebacks, and anyone born before 1990 knows Eddie Murphy belongs squarely in that category. His early meteoric rise on the back of his live performance video Delirious and films like Beverley Hills Cop and its endless imitators – all starring Murphy playing variations of the same fast-talking character – are so different in tone to his current stretch of success they might as well be from different people.
Now at home in fluffy family comedies like The Haunted Mansion, Doctor Dolittle and Daddy Day Care, Murphy’s star was tanking badly after his Beverley Hills Cop days, and if his current crop of star vehicles is any indication, he deserved to stay forgotten. Aside from several stand-outs in genuinely funny movies like Shrek and Bowfinger, Norbit is just his sort of dross; a strictly formulaic, largely unfunny comedy with every signposted cliche firmly in place, a tiresome love conquers all requiem with plenty of tasteless backdrop of fat jokes.
Continuing his slightly disturbing belief that fat suits are where it’s at, Murphy plays both put-upon dolt Norbit and his tower-of-terror wife Rasputia, a woman we’re supposed to find repugnant because she’s a bitch and, well, that makes it easier to laugh at the overweight. Growing up under the thumb of Rasputia and her crooked construction company owner brothers all his life, Norbit is pleasantly surprised to see the return of his childhood sweetheart, Kate (Newton) to town, hoping to buy the orphanage they were bought up in.
But he’s horrified to find Kate has a fiance in tow (Gooding Jr), another shyster who soon hooks up with Rasputia’s crooked brothers to redevelop the orphanage into a strip club. The race is on for Norbit to learn the truth about Kate’s sleazy man, get out from under the boot heel of his fearsome wife and her oversized siblings and ride off into the sunset with the right girl.
You’ll know every beat of this rhythm a mile off, and it’s all interspersed with sequences that give Murphy the stage and let him do his thing; having much more fun as the rotund villain than the henpecked husband. If you’re a student of digital effects you’ll have much more fun working out how they got the same performer in frame at the same time. Watch for the sequence of Norbit and Rasputia discussing the waterslide she’s about to go on – you can see where Rasputia’s badly patched-in CGI head joins the fat-suited body of a stand-in.
The laughs are broad (pardon the pun), obtuse, and unsubtle. Much of the time they’re unfunny and you know just what to expect and that’s just what you’ll get. But has Eddie heard his many critics? Is he getting paranoid about taking another dive and making one more last Rocky-like grab for glory? At development stage is the fourth Beverley Hills Cop movie. Desperation? No more than appearing in Norbit.