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Film review: ‘Norbit’ pounds tiresome gag into the ground

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Norbit (Eddie Murphy) finds himself up a tree in his relationship with Rasputia (also Eddie Murphy).

Norbit (Eddie Murphy) finds himself up a tree in his relationship with Rasputia (also Eddie Murphy).

Bruce McBroom, Dreamworks LLC

NORBIT — * — Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Cuba Gooding Jr.; rated PG-13 (vulgarity, violence, sex, profanity, brief nudity, ethnic slurs).

It's a sad sign of the times when Eddie Murphy almost makes Martin Lawrence seem subtle and clever by comparison.

Murphy's latest, "Norbit," takes the same tiresome, fat-suit jokes that Lawrence's "Big Momma" films relied upon, and drives them into the ground.

But it doesn't stop there. This noxious, supposed comedy continues to pound on that joke until it leaves a gaping hole. And then it fills the hole in with dirt so it can pound it in some more. And then it repeats the process ... for more than 100 painful minutes.

Murphy produced the film, co-wrote its screenplay and plays three roles — including the title character, the hapless, nerdy Norbit Albert Rice.

Norbit still longs for his childhood sweetheart, Kate Thomas (Thandie Newton), who's recently returned home so she can take over the orphanage where they grew up together.

Unfortunately, she's now engaged to the deceitful Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who's planning to marry the sweet-natured Kate as soon as possible. And besides, Norbit is already married to a woman he's rightfully afraid of, the plus-size Rasputia (Murphy, in a wig and fat suit).

How this relentlessly crude film got a PG-13 rating instead of a deserved R is anyone's guess. Worse, it's also racially offensive and sexist.

As for Murphy and his ballyhooed multiple roles, none of his work here is even remotely amusing — particularly his turn as Norbit's adoptive Asian father, which trots out the expected, grotesque racial stereotypes. In fact, his recent Oscar nomination for best-supporting actor (in"Dreamgirls") should be revoked.

That isn't to say that Gooding or comedians Eddie Griffin and Katt Williams are outstanding either. But at least they keep their contributions to one role each.

"Norbit" is rated PG-13 for crude sexual and bodily function humor (references and sight gags), supposedly comic violence (vehicular mayhem, beatings, combat and an act of animal cruelty), simulated sex (mostly overheard), occasional profanity, brief male nudity and nude artwork, and also slurs based on ethnicity and race. Running time: 102 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com