Norbit (2007)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Thandie Newton, Eddie Griffin
Extras: Featurettes, Mock Infomercial, Photo Gallery, Theatrical Trailer, Deleted Scenes

"Norbit, " the latest Eddie Murphy vehicle is directed by Brian Robbins, whose previous credits are mostly as producer of some fairly successful television series, including "Smallville" and the mega blockbuster "Wild Hogs". He seems to have an eye for box office hits, and his track record was enhanced when "Norbit" became a very big hit. I am here to review the HD-DVD of this film, so let me just start by saying this was a very safe bet, even if Eddie Murphy could have been a gamble (or has been in the recent past). Because of all of the negative reviews, I approached this one somewhat hesitantly, as you may expect. This is the kind of film that has a target audience, and it's supposedly offensive nature is a hit or miss. Me, I am certainly not offended easily, and when I am, it is never by a film, it is always by the news. This is obviously the kind of film you have to go into without any preconceived notions, if you set out thinking it's something it's not, you will be disappointed, but it doesn't hide behind anything, from the theatrical artwork, the trailer and the infinite bad reviews it inspires. I mean, just look at the cover of the disc. The reason this film was a hit, I think, is because we are all ready to have Eddie Murphy back. The real Eddie Murphy, the tortured, insulting, brilliant and troubled Eddie Murphy, the one that brought us "Coming To America" and "Delirious" and "Raw". Not the toned down, family friendly "Daddy Day Care", "Dr. Doolittle", take financial advice from Steve Martin Eddie Murphy that some of us have tolerated for years now. After an Academy Award noticed performance in "Dreamgirls" we get "Norbit", which, as silly as the premise often is, can be acknowledged as a good performance by Eddie Murphy. Because as bad as this movie can be, his performances are often quite funny and it is obvious that a lot of talent is involved in bringing these characters to the screen, especially his surprisingly shocking dead on take of an extremely large and over the top black woman. Here, let me explain…

The film starts off, ridiculously enough, with infant Norbit being thrown from a car onto the steps of a Chinese dining facility/orphanage. This is where we first meet Murphy's impression of Mr. Wong, and let me tell you, he is an extreme character, to say the least. Yes, I have read the accusations of racism, but I personally felt his imitation of this person was done in a very lighthearted way, not 'racist', but rather making fun of the concept of racism itself. Certainly nothing to get worked up over. Mr. Wong 'raises' young Norbit, and we have some seriously over the top violent comedy routines in the same spirit as anything by the Farrelly Brothers but not near as funny. In fact, within the first seven minutes we get enough animal cruelty, child endangerment, racial stereotyping, and poop jokes to clear the theater of any easily offended people. It simply makes it obvious that young Norbit was raised in a dysfunctional environment, he also falls for a girl when he is about eight years old. Her name is Kate, but their childhood romance is robbed when she is adopted. A short while later, he is saved from a couple of red-headed thugs at the playground by his future wife Rasputia (also played later by Eddie Murphy). We meet her three menacing and over protective brothers Big Jake, Earl and Blue (Terry Crews, Clifton Powell and Mighty Rasta) and follow the characters all the way to the wedding, where Murphy gets to show us all of his talent in one big, messy, but often hilarious routine. And you will be amazed that modern technology has come so far that you won't notice any split screens or anything like that, and as far as makeup, we have come a long way with the fat suit, to say the least. Eddie's performance of the insecure and hopelessly defenseless Norbit, and the flipside Rasputia is many times uncomfortable to watch, because it is basically making a joke about domestic disputes, but I get the strange feeling Murphy is exorcising his demons here, and he truly is performing. It's all in the details, the extreme mannerisms of Rasputia are subtle at times, and more pronounced in others, let me say, he has this woman down in every way, and it was quite impressive to watch. I often found myself forgetting it was Murphy. As for Norbit, the polar opposite, insecure, sensitive, underweight, you just have to see for yourself. It is quite an impressive mixture of performances and the only redeeming quality of this pointless and awful film. It would truly be unwatchable if not for the obvious passion of Murphy's performances. So he marries the wrong girl, but later meets up with his childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton), after discovering Rasputia having an affair with her fitness instructor Buster (Marlon Wayons). Kate is involved with someone else who isn't into her, Deion Hughs (Cuba Gooding Jr.), but devises a marriage just for financial gain. You can see where it goes from here, but what you can't are the endless skits and ridiculous situations these people become entangled in. It's really not worth getting into detail over, sight gag after 'offensive' sight gag, and you can probably tell how it ends just by reading this. This is the kind of movie that makes you feel stupid just writing about it. But, strangely, Eddie Murphy really shines in this, he just needs better material. And yes, he wrote it with his brother. But it was a bet that paid off financially and gave him a much needed blockbuster. I only hope he follows through with something better. My point is, if Eddie Murphy can serve up these outrageous imitations and impersonations for this, maybe he will surprise us all after his nomination for "Dreamgirls" and not sell out. I will keep my fingers crossed. I would love to see him in a movie with Don Cheadle, or a James Brown biopic, but let's just wait and see…

As for the presentation of the Dreamworks HD-DVD, it is nothing short of spectacular. The colors just burst off the screen, and there is more to look at than I expected. The production values were very high for this film. It looks very expensive and polished. It looks (not surprisingly) as colorful as an episode of Smallville, a lot of the time. There is a hint of digital noise in some scenes, and the film is directed with a 'soft' focus, but I'm sure that was intentional. All in all, quite good. The details in the clothing and the amazing makeup come through very nicely. It fills the screen nicely at 1:85.1 and is crisp and clean throughout. It looks better than I even wanted it to.

As for the sound, I was also quite impressed. A very active surround field on this Dolby Digital Plus track, some of the routines actually make you quite uncomfortable because of the over the top nature of what you are watching, I have never heard a fart effect move from the left speaker to the right and hope I never have to again, not to mention the subwoofer response. Which is uncomfortably strong, I might add.

Now, onto the special features. The most impressive aspect of these is the fact that almost all of them are in high definition, and I hope that DreamWorks continues this, and I hope more studios follow suit. Of course, it's no secret that the parent company is Paramount, so I'm not that surprised. First up, we have 'The Making Of Norbit' (HD, 21 Minutes) which doesn't really add any real insight and features the typical interviews where everyone involved basically talks about the plot. Looks great, though. 'The Stunts Of Norbit' (HD,11 Minutes) is just like it sounds, an overview of some of the stunts and gags. 'Man Of A Thousand Faces' is probably my favorite of the bunch, although it only clocks in at about four minutes. It does feature the legendary Rick Baker, and as stupid as the movie may appear to most, the makeup and affects are very well done. It is only in standard definition, though. Next up is a collection of very short deleted scenes that total in at about 9 minutes. None of them are worthy of mention, but they all look great in high definition. We also have a photo gallery and the theatrical trailer (HD).

So, there we have it. A fairly decent high definition presentation of a truly awful movie with inspired and sometimes quite funny performances from Eddie Murphy. Many out there will hate this film, but I would love to see Eddie Murphy surprise us all and do some material worthy of his talent. We'll just have to wait and see…