‘Norbit’ exploits tired fat stereotypes in failed film

With a pending Oscar nomination for a serious role in “Dreamgirls,” Eddie Murphy proves in “Norbit” that he can still make a bomb.

Mild-mannered Norbit (Eddie Murphy, “The Haunted Mansion,” “Daddy Day Care”) is compelled into a relationship with Rasputia (also Eddie Murphy). She gives Norbit, a man who was an orphan as a child, a sense of family when he is accepted by her relatives. He even goes so far as to marry her, but there are three problems in this relationship: Rasputia is fat; Rasputia and her family are bullies who terrorize everyone in the town; and Norbit’s childhood sweetheart (Thandie Newton, “Crash,” “The Truth About Charlie”) resurfaces to remind him of his feelings for her.

Any successful and memorable comedy develops around a heart-warming story center, but this film’s heart fails to beat. The film, crafted by a writing team headed by Eddie Murphy, has that off-color humor that isn’t quite funny and leaves a bad aftertaste. “Norbit” is offensive, racist and at times downright gross.

But “Norbit”‘s most disturbing drawback has to do with the fat jokes strewn throughout the film like confetti.

Granted, technology has come so far that the sight of Eddie Murphy in a fat suit playing a woman looks incredibly real. However, this doesn’t excuse the fact that Rasputia is always seen in clothes, or the lack thereof, that reveal her figure in grotesque ways.

Eddie Murphy resorts to every playground taunt he can throw into the film. This includes a scene in a water park with Rasputia in a bikini, where she is asked if she is even wearing “bottoms,” to which she responds by pulling up her bulging belly to prove that she is. She shakes the earth when she walks and smothers her husband with her amorous overtures. She is constantly seen eating massive amounts of food and jiggles her way through the film with evil glee.

And let’s not forget the required dance routine to a sexy song that displays yet again Rasputia’s enormous body in a monstrous light. “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?” she sings repeatedly throughout the film, reminding the audience that she is indeed a “freak.” The United States is struggling with the highest obesity rates it has ever seen. When France is putting its foot down about models being too skinny, what social responsibility does a movie like this have?

- Advertisement -

Certainly, fat is seen to be funny these days, as the characters in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” “Big Momma’s House,” “The Nutty Professor” and “Date Movie” can attest. Perhaps it’s too much to ask of an Eddie Murphy comedy to actually treat people who are different with respect, let alone deal with a concept like social responsibility. But when are the obese going to stop being the brunt of every joke or being portrayed as villains?

This film left the audience as a whole unamused. On opening night, there wasn’t a single laugh to be heard in the entire theater for almost the full length of the film. The majority of the laughs came at the end, when the lack of a plot grew so desperate the town had a showdown in the street with the villains just like a classic Western. And even then, it wasn’t funny so much as pathetic and ridiculous.

Even if one could look beyond the constant onslaught of fat jokes, the film left much to be desired. It just didn’t work.