In Norbit, Eddie Murphy is like a xylophone player who keeps banging away on the same two discordant notes; unfortunately, those monotonous, off-key tones are the characters he’s playing. As Norbit, an aviator-framed nerd who’s like a human punching bag out of the worst urban sitcom of 1974, Murphy speaks in a breathy lisp, as if his mouth had been partially buttoned shut, and he doesn’t give himself the nerd’s traditional redeeming feature of a geeky, slide-rule intellect. Norbit, all frozen gawk, is just a very dim bulb.
He is married, for some reason, to Godzilla…I mean, Rasputia, a shrieking, scowling terror, her limbs dripping with fat, played by Murphy with enough head swivels, angrily wagged fake fingernails, and sassafras ”attitude” to make Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma and Tyler Perry’s Madea look like the Brontë sisters. (In a smaller role, Murphy also plays Norbit’s adoptive father, the unfunny Asian stereotype Mr. Wong.) Yet here, once again, the character has no glee, no happy raunchy devil inside. She’s just a scratchy-voiced monstrosity, an excuse for Murphy to strut around wearing the latest in fat-suit technology.
Now, there’s where Norbit is impressive. When Rasputia shows up in a bikini, you don’t just see the rolls of blubber; you see dimples and stretch marks — you see cellulite. The spectacle of spilling, jiggling flesh, served up via the wizardry of Rick Baker, is so convincing that it makes a mockery — an irrelevance — of Eddie Murphy’s gifts.