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Black Knight

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Martin Lawrence turns sheepish after his boast of an Oscar nomination for "Black Knight" elicits pants-wetting laughter from the crew.

© 2001, Universal
All Rights Reserved

There is already enough incriminating evidence to prove just how out of touch with his comedic instincts Martin Lawrence is. Yet here comes "Black Knight" (IMDb listing) another dismal, laborious comedy that sends Lawrence further down the disgrace spiral. How much longer must the audience pay for making "Big Momma's House" a box office hit?

As a lowly employee at a medieval times theme park, Jamal Walker (Lawrence) dreams of a better life. When a competing theme park is opening miles away, Jamal sees his chance to step up in the world. During one day when he is forced to clean a moat around the entrance of the park, Jamal discovers a golden medallion swimming in the water. As he tries to grab the necklace, he is sucked into the water, and shot out the other side. Seeing a castle, horses and knights, Jamal assumes he is at the new theme park. When he quickly figures out that he was magically transported to the 1300s, Jamal panics and tries desperately to find a way home. Soon enough though, Jamal begins to sympathize with the peasants who want to overthrow the evil king and reclaim the kingdom. Using his mix of hip-hop street justice and a slow wit, Jamal becomes the leader the peasants are looking for, and the love interest a chambermaid (Marsha Thomason) didn't expect.

It's just so frustrating to watch trash like "Black Knight" and see Martin Lawrence run around acting like an idiot when I know good and well that he isn't. Lawrence, fattened by either cash or ego, just doesn't get it. He is all too content to rely on elementary school facial gestures and weeping cries to get laughs. With "Black Knight," Lawrence is as shameless as he was in the summer bomb "What's The Worst That Could Happen?" Eschewing true comedic timing and pitch-perfect joke telling to run around screaming like an 8-year-old girl and making some vague references to South Central Los Angeles, Lawrence obliterates any chance this knock-off of "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court" had of being amusing. It's grueling to watch, as my patience with this shtick has long since run out. Cinema superstar or not, Lawrence needs a project that will elevate him to the levels that "You So Crazy" and "Bad Boys" promised. "Black Knight" is just another easy lay-up for this increasingly lazy actor.

It doesn't help that Lawrence has hired television staple Gil Junger ("Blossom," "Empty Nest") to direct. Coming off his execrable 1999 film debut "Ten Things I Hate About You," Junger hasn't accomplished much in the interim. He's an unsophisticated filmmaker, interested only in what he can spoon-feed the audience. And when that fails him, a really unsubtle manure joke will suffice. Junger also opts for a distinctively bizarre Jonathan Demme-like approach to the camerawork, as almost the entire film is shot in character point of view. It's an unsettling choice that suffocates the comedy. What Junger does seem to understand is pacing. The film runs 90 minutes and carries along at a fast clip. Maybe it was a way to make this harsh medicine go down easier, but I am thankful to Junger for keeping the picture tight and short.

I know the drill: Junger and Lawrence aren't going to try breaking new ground when the tried and true always works. Nevertheless, the tried and true in "Black Knight" is humiliating to them both this time around. It wastes valuable time and film stock. And the worst aspect about it? The ending promises a sequel.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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