[box cover]

Black Knight

Martin Lawrence has been in worse movies than Black Knight (for proof, see What's the Worst That Could Happen? — on second thought, don't...), but he hasn't really been in anything that's much better (Do the Right Thing doesn't count, since he wasn't a star then), and that's a shame. Because although he has a reputation as a demanding, high-strung diva behind the scenes, when he gets going, Lawrence can be an appealing guy. This Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court re-imagining gives him some good moments as Jamal Walker, a self-centered, fast-talking L.A. schmoozer who works on the maintenance staff at Medieval World, a swords 'n' castles theme park that's about to be obliterated by Castle World, a rival park opening up down the street. When Jamal falls into the moat and gets sucked through a portal into 14th-century England, at first he thinks he's just getting a sneak preview of Castle World's ultra-realistic attractions; his blustering ignorance continues until he sees a real-live beheading. But by then it's too late — he's been mistaken for a Moorish messenger from the Duke of Normandy and swept up in a plot to help assassinate the usurper king. Leading the rebellion is comely courtier Victoria (Marsha Thomason); with Jamal's help, she re-enlists the assistance of famous knight-turned-drunken sot Sir Knolte (In the Bedroom's Tom Wilkinson). Battles ensue, but not before Jamal has a chance to teach the lords and ladies how to bust a move on the dance floor. Cute as a moment like that is, though, it's also pretty predictable, and, like the rest of the movie, it doesn't do much to challenge Lawrence or make him stretch his comic talents in new directions. Instead, he mugs, double-takes, and "damn!"s his way through the film, which culminates in a forced ending that screams "sequel." Altogether, Black Knight is funnier than the ads made it look, but too indulgent and eager for its own good. Fans of the film will find a lot to love on Fox's feature-packed DVD though. Director Gil Junger (10 Things I Hate About You) offers a full-length commentary track, in which he fawns over Lawrence's brilliance ("every cell of this man's body is funny") and over-explains certain basic film techniques. Lawrence, meanwhile, apparently only had room in his schedule to comment on two scenes (Jamal's meeting with Sir Knolte and his attempt to ride a horse); his observations are featured in picture-in-picture pop-ups. Also on the disc are outtakes, two storyboard-to-scene comparisons, three deleted scenes with optional commentary by Junger, trailers, and featurettes on the characters, sets, stunts, and choreography. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is strong and bright, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is crisp (other options include French 2.0, Spanish 2.0, and English subtitles). Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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