Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Norbit

24 minutes. That's how far into the Eddie Murphy "comedy" Norbit (2007) I was before I shut it off. I tried later to resume watching it but decided rather quickly life's too short and took the DVD out of the player.

I'm doing something I've never done before. I'm writing about a movie I didn't finish. Let's put this into context: I have reviewed my share of bad movies: Beverly Hills Ninja, Howard the Duck, Troll 2, Batman and Robin, to name a few. Right now, I would like to apologize to all those titles; I was at least able to get through them.

Even Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny, when I said there was a moment that I wanted to shut the movie off after seeing (when Jack Black uses his penis to disable a security system), I look back and realize I was too hard on that movie. It was stupid, but there are a couple of funny moments and I was able to finish it. Not only is Norbit bottom-of-the-barrel, lowest-common-denominator material, it's also nasty and mean-spirited without a single redeeming quality.

Once again, Murphy uses Rick Baker's makeup prowess (the film was Oscar-nominated for best makeup) to play multiple characters: Norbit, a meek simpleton who grew up in an orphanage, Mr. Wong, the Chinese owner of the orphanage; and Rasputia, Norbit's large, monstrous wife.

Now, what do I mean by large? Well, early on, after their wedding, the movie treats us to a montage of Norbit and Rasputia in the bedroom, and each segment ends the same way: she leaps on top of Norbit, crushing him and destroying the bed. Oh wait, I forgot, on President's Day, Norbit is dressed as Abe Lincoln and Rasputia is dressed as a grateful slave. That's one of the movies jokes by the way. Also a joke: Rasputia does poorly in aerobics class because she's fat, and later, she yells at Norbit to go get her some fried chicken because she's fat. At her wedding reception, she eats a huge chunk of cake before it's been cut because she's fat. The movie never stops hammering home Rasputia's girth, demanding the audience to find hilarity in that by itself, and it's not only mean-spirited, it's lazy and repulsive. The makeup convincingly transforms Murphy into a morbidly obese Jabba lady, but when the movie shows her in various stages of undress, I really wish the filmmakers got someone less talented than Rick Baker to construct it.

And what do I mean by monstrous? Well, Rasputia is simply one of the nastiest, meanest, most disgusting characters I've ever seen in a movie. She's loud, greedy, violent, jealous, ignorant, and just plain unpleasant to be around. She treats Norbit like crap, ordering him around, controlling every aspect of his life, screeching at him when he doesn't obey perfectly, and beating him and other people up. The movie's level of humor rarely goes beyond the notion of going "Hey, look how awful Rasputia is and did we mention she's awful?"

Norbit himself is not funny; Murphy overplays the meek sweetness, and you just want to smack him for acting so dopey. As for Mr. Wong, well, at Norbit's wedding, as best man, he tells a story on stage about how as a  little boy, Norbit had a tiny penis. And Mr. Wong likes to have the children carry a cardboard whale around the backyard so he can harpoon it.

This movie is appalling, reprehensible, and nasty. As the star, and one of the writers and producers, Eddie Murphy should be ashamed for foisting this piece shit on the world.

Monkeybone

Boy, I thought I wanted to strangle John Turturro in Miller's Crossing. I had no idea how obnoxious he could be as an animated monkey. At least the Coen Brothers had the decency to let Gabriel Byrne blow his brains out.

Monkeybone (2001) is from director Henry Selick, who has directed a number of wonderful stop-motion animated movies, including The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Coraline. These movies were bizarre and at times dark, but they were also sweet, charming, funny, and imaginative. Monkeybone mixes live-action and stop-motion animation, but unfortunately, it's mostly just weird, playing like a bad version of Beetlejuice that lacks the wit and wonder Tim Burton brought to his picture.

The movie centers on a cartoonist, Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser), who is about to propose to his girlfriend Julie (Bridget Fonda) and hit it big with his popular creation Monkeybone (voice by John Turturro). Alas, an accident knocks Stu into a coma where he enters Down Town, a bizarre limbo filled weird fantastical creatures including Monkeybone. Long story short, Monkeybone winds up occupying Stu's body in the real world, allowing him to wreak havoc, while Stu is sent into the body of a gymnast-turned-organ-donor (Chris Kattan) to stop his creation.

Monkeybone is a movie I want to like more than I do because it's so darkly offbeat and weird. It's similar to Beetlejuice in that Down Town is filled with bizarre creatures and nightmarish imagery (a dog exposed to Nightmare Juice dreams he's strapped to a gurney about to be castrated by feline surgeons), and some characters look like they'd belong in a Ray Harryhausen stop-motion epic like Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts. Whoopi Goldberg turns up as Death, an eye-patch-wearing boss with a shelf full of spare heads in case hers explodes. Down Town resembles a seedy carnival, and those souls who are allowed to return to their bodies are sent flying into the stratosphere by a high striker.

Selick is also not afraid to push the bounds of taste. At the climax, when Stu as the gymnast is chasing Monkeybone in Stu's body while dangling from a balloon, his organs keep falling out of his abdomen and landing in inopportune places, such as a grill or the mouth of a hungry dog. It's disgusting, but the audacity is kind of admirable, even if much of the scenes emphasizing the body's poor condition (a snapped neck held up by a ruler and duct tape) made me wince.

The problem with Monkeybone is it's never really funny; it's mostly weird and dark. There were several instances when I can tell I was supposed to laugh, but it just wasn't happening. Selick seems to be under the impression that being bizarre is funny enough; he introduces a character or setting that's unusual but doesn't give them anything interesting to do. For example, Stu and Monkeybone disguise themselves as a cloaked grim reaper, one of dozens under the employ of Death, and the pair end up in line, waiting for their assignment. Again like, Beetlejuice, we're dealing with the afterlife bureaucracy, and this is a neat set up, but the movie never escalates the situation, content to show Stu and Monkeybone just trying not to get caught.

But the main problem with Monkeybone is Monkeybone himself; he's just annoying, a loud, chattering runt who causes trouble without any traits to make him palatable. Last Beetlejuice reference I promise, but Michael Keaton as the Ghost with the Most had several dimensions. He could be creepy, lecherous, sarcastic, flamboyant, jovial, laid-back, and the kind of trouble he caused involved turning into a giant snake demon. He was smart, a schemer with a plan and goal. Plus his screen time was limited, so he wasn't tiresome. Monkeybone, a representation of Stu's id, is around too long, never shuts up and has no more motivation than to be a nuisance.

Fraser is normally a likable presence in this type of goofy movie, but he doesn't get a whole to do as normal Stu and his Monkeybone-Stu is just irritating. Plus, his character never recovers from the first scene when we learn that as a kid, he was sexually aroused by his teacher's arm flab (his first erection is represented by Monkeybone in one of his cartoons). That's the kind of detail I can tell is supposed to be funny, but I'm not laughing; I'm kind of creeped out. Meanwhile, Fonds is given little to do other than look worried.

Oddly enough, the best actor in the movie is Kattan. I've never been a fan of Kattan's, and his cinematic output includes such execrable movies as A Night at the Roxbury and Corky Romano, but as a corpse, occupied by Fraser's character, he is surprisingly good, and the scene where he tries to convince Julie who he really is kind of sweet and convincing. No one else makes much of an impression except Rose McGowan as a Down Town cat lady (as in a humanoid cat) and Dave Foley as Stu's manager, who freaks out, strips naked, and runs through a crowd.