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In the 25 years since Eddie Murphy walked into a country & western bar in 48 HRS (1982) and walked out a movie star, his place in the pantheon has never been in doubt. And while he reportedly has earned a reputation for being difficult, perhaps even prima dona, such is the cost of working with a tried and true comic genius. Thus, when he was nominated for an Academy Award for a career-high performance in 2006's Dreamgirls, getting the career-celebrating golden man seemed almost a fait accompli. As we all now know, Murphy was denied the win (it went to Alan Arkin, to which only people close to Murphy might cite as being unfair). Short of telephone polling, there's no way of knowing why the Academy voted for Arkin over Murphy, even if Dreamgirls was not exactly an Oscar favorite. But of all the conspiracy theories as to why Murphy lost, the most probable is the Feb. 9, 2007, release date and advertising of Norbit. Surely, the number of Academy voters who drove along Sunset and saw billboards of Murphy lying in a sexual embrace with himself made up as a fat woman were more than enough to cost him the trophy. But Norbit is not only terrible in and of itself, but it's also endemic of everything that has gone wrong in Murphy's career. Murphy plays the titular character, an orphan raised in the back of a Chinese restaurant by Mr. Wong (Murphy), who grows into a meek man dominated by his shrewish, obese wife Rasputia (Murphy). When Norbit catches his wife cheating on him with her gym instructor Buster Perkins (Marlon Wayans), he breaks up with her, but she tells him she's with child and reels him back in. Norbit's always been in love with Kate (Thandie Newton), but once she returns to town he finds out that she's also engaged to Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Deion is scum, though, and is a male golddigger. Deion finds that his plans to bilk Kate out of money mix with Rasputia's three thuggish brother's (including Terry Crews) plans to turn Mr. Wong's place into a place called "Nipplopolis." Norbit is Eddie Murphy in Jerry Lewis territory, and were he working with someone as talented as Frank Tashlin, there might have been a movie here. Alas, director Brian Robbins shouldn't be directing home videos, much less helming a big-budget comedy: He shoots everything like it's a laundry detergent commercial. He also uses a body double as often as possible for the Rasputia character, and imposing Murphy's face on the body double is not only distracting, but points to one of the most important rules of comedy: CGI is too distracting to be funny. Robbins' great invention as a director is, in one moment, placing the camera in the point of view of Rasputia's vagina. Murphy plays Norbit as if he's about ten years old, which theoretically works, but Rasputia is such an unpleasant creature that even the great character details are undone by Murphy's constant use of the character's non-catchphrase "How you doing?" Unfortunately it seems Murphy needs to be beaten down in his career enough to actually work with talented people who might force him to bring the A-game that's been on less and less display since his heydays in the '80s. Hopefully he'll bottom out enough to do something decent again. DreamWorks/Paramount presents Norbit on DVD in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a "making-of" spot (22 min.), the special effects piece "Man of a Thousand Faces" (4 min.), Marlon Wayans goofing in character for "Power Tap" (5 min.), "The Stunts of Norbit (12 min.), 14 deleted scenes (8 min.), a stills gallery, the theatrical trailer, and bonus trailers. Keep-case.

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