boston.com Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe
MOVIE REVIEW

'Norbit' belongs in the stereotype hall of fame

Eddie Murphy plays both the nerd Norbit and his overweight wife, Rasputia. (bruce mcbroom)

A Saturday evening. The phone rings.

"Hello?"

"Hey, girl."

"Oh, hey. What's going on?"

"Nothing. I just saw that Eddie Murphy movie 'Norbit,' where he plays both the nerd with an overbite, big glasses, and a puffy little Afro, and the obnoxious fat woman he marries."

"That's funny, I went last night. And I'm at a loss. I laughed and all. But it was also dumb and coarse and sometimes boring and a little bit sad. I mean I know Eddie Murphy is a great comedian, and I'm happy for his Oscar nomination for 'Dreamgirls' and that his career's on a roll again -- and I mean I'll support a brother. But when's he gonna try to do some August Wilson. 'Cause this 'Norbit' is some seriously regressive -- "

"I'm feeling you on this. He still doesn't like women."

"I've been saying that since 'Delirious.' "

"This movie belongs in the Black Stereotype Hall of Fame, from the three shiftless schemers to the two funky pimps. It is interesting that Eddie decided to play the most offensive characters himself -- the wife, Rasputia, and the kindly, racist Chinese dude who raises Norbit."

"The only recommendable thing about Norbit is that he's not as bad as every other person in this movie. It's like these weird defects in Eddie's psychology are OK because he can make entertainment out of them."

"Comedians do that all the time. But his biggest defect is about us. We're not as big as Rasputia, but we're not dainty, either. And this movie is about an evil obese chick. She's jealous and petty and lazy and greedy and gross and ignorant. Did you see yourself in her? 'Cause I didn't."

"No. But what's weird is how she's not meant to be a satire on a particular type of person. She's like just a pure living nightmare, the reason why so many men chase Paris Hilton and the Pussycat Dolls. Norbit never loved her. He married her because her no-good idiot brothers -- two bodybuilders and one slick dude -- pretty much force him to. She goes crazy when Thandie Newton shows up playing his childhood sweetheart, who's a lot thinner. The dark-skinned fatty versus the fatless hottie. It's Lena Horne versus Ethel Waters all over again."

"Or 'Dreamgirls.' "

"Is it me or did it seem like the people making this movie went out of their way to make Thandie look a lot lighter than Rasputia?"

"It's not you. They definitely gave her the Barbra Streisand lights."

"It was also like every time Rasputia starts to seem real in an understandable, human way, like when she tells Thandie she's too thin out of actual jealousy, the movie makes her do something stupid in the next scene."

"Oh, like when she torpedoes down that water slide in the bathing suit."

"The joke is never how skinny Thandie is. And Rasputia is right: Thandie needs to eat. The joke is how Rasputia's exposed celluloid jiggles and how this great big woman is capable of flying through the air with so much ease."

"I was embarrassed for her because she was too dumb to be embarrassed for herself."

"But I was embarrassed for Thandie, too."

"What is going on with her? Remember her in 'The Truth About Charlie'? Where's that movie star?"

"I didn't see that movie. But I'm always rooting for her. I hate seeing her so shrill and strident, like in 'Crash' and in 'The Pursuit of Happyness. ' "

"She looked a hot mess in that movie."

"She looked strung out and nuts so Will Smith would look good."

"At least in 'Norbit,' she's not crazy."

"But she's an airhead. I mean, seriously: Who agrees to marry Cuba Gooding Jr. anymore?"

"I forgot he was in this movie."

"He plays her golddigger boyfriend."

"What happened to his career?"

"Girl, we don't have time."

"Well, let's get back to my original concern. What are these black comedians doing for us?"

"If we're not 500 pounds and insane, we're 50 pounds and stupid."

"Look at Big Momma. Look at Tyler Perry and that Madea character."

"Come on. I like Tyler Perry."

"He doesn't hate women the way it seems like Eddie Murphy does. I'll give you that. But the point is that these men are dictating how normal and big black women play in the movies. I can't think of a woman who would waste her time playing a fat black dude for laughs."

"I don't think our narcissism works that way. If a black woman gets the chance to carry a movie, or, heaven forbid, direct one, we wouldn't have time for a frivolous mess like 'Norbit." We'd have to make something that matters."

"That's the worst news of all about these brothers in drag. It means another black woman is out of a job."

"I'm convinced if Eddie Murphy had his way. He would have played his part in 'Dreamgirls' and Jennifer Hudson's."

"Don't even go there."

"Well, with this movie likely to top the box office when the Oscar polls close on February 20, Eddie should just be glad there are barely any big-boned black women in the Academy to vote for somebody else."

"Mmm hmm. You go, Marky Mark!"

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES