Just Push Play: DVD Review of ’Norbit’

Mike’s take: 1 Star

OK, let’s cut to the chase. “Norbit” is 90 minutes of Eddie Murphy in a fat suit playing the most abrasive, abusive woman on the planet. He also plays the meek and mild title character and a lunatic, racist Chinese man. It is terribly unfunny, and rumor has it in Hollywood that this movie killed his chance at an Oscar for “Dreamgirls.” Totally believable, considering how low-brow the humor is in “Norbit.”

Martin Lawrence in a fat suit is funny (“Big Momma’s House”). Mike Myers in a fat suit is funny (playing the bloated Scotsman in the “Austin Powers” films). Eddie Murphy in a fat suit wasn’t funny. So where did Eddie go wrong?

The premise: see Eddie Murphy playing a fat lady. Funny for the first 10 minutes, but how much can you laugh at a fat person before feeling a little guilty?

I watched all the DVD extras hoping to figure out why this comedy went flat. Instead, I was reminded of how truly funny Eddie Murphy is ­— offscreen and behind the scenes. Unfortunately, his talent simply didn’t translate on screen in “Norbit.” His passion for what he calls “makeup movies” is genuine, because of his uncanny ability, as director Brian Robbins points out, of playing off against himself. As he did in “Coming to America” and “The Nutty Professor,” Eddie enjoys playing multiple roles requiring extensive makeup.

I’m reminded of his stage show back in the early ‘80s, when he would riff on the family cookout. For 20 minutes, Eddie seamlessly recreated a hilarious family affair involving an intoxicated father, a shoe-wielding mother, and the overweight Aunt Bunny. That was Eddie Murphy in his prime. If Eddie could only tap back into that keg of comedy that made him famous, I’d be a fan once again.

Inside the DVD: The documentary points out a fun fact that Cuba Gooding Jr., who plays the two-timing bad guy in “Norbit,” had his first screen role with Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America” as the boy getting his haircut in the barber shop scene. His only line was edited out of the film.

Jorge’s take: 2 Stars

Eddie Murphy reminds me how each comedian has his own particular style. Murphy, it seems to me, is trying to compete with the likes of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson and perhaps even Jim Carey. I’m not sure he’s doing a good job of sticking to his old-school talent of bouncing jokes off himself as he plays more than one personality on the same screen. It would help if I didn’t know that because as I watched Norbit speak with his larger half, I kept thinking he’s talking to himself. What we actually see is not one continuous stream, but a heavily edited movie.

Some of the better parts of the movie are when Murphy plays one role or the other, but never when does both simultaneously.

It’s also a little hard for me to get past the annoying Norbit character who talks like he never completed puberty or was doomed to a perpetual ‘80s look.

On the other hand, Murphy has a talent that could probably only be matched by Robin Williams at impersonating so many characters. Who could carry out a storyline that plays out a thin passive man and an overbearing woman at the same time? When you think about what Murphy tries to accomplish, it’s hard not to admire his ambition. That alone may merit watching this movie.