The "fish-out-of-water" is probably one of the most surefire routines
that a comedy writer can employ. If nothing else the juxtaposition of
someone of his/her element is always good for a few laughs, and that
spirit holds up in the latest Martin Lawrence vehicle BLACK KNIGHT.
As in numerous other stories, the hero -- in this case, a street-smart
slacker named Jamal Walker (Lawrence) -- mysteriously finds himself
in another place and/or time. Jamal works at a run-down theme park
called Medieval World. With a rival attraction scheduled to open soon,
fast-talking Jamal suggests to the owner (Isabell Monk) that she might
want to consider retirement. For his part, Jamal already has an
application for Castle World -- and he tries to convince his buddy
Steve (Darryl Mitchell) to join him. While cleaning out the filthy moat,
they both notice an expensive-looking medallion just under the surface.
As Steve runs off to get something to retrieve the jewelry, Jamal
reaches for it and is seemingly sucked into the fetid water. Before he
knows it, he has been magically transported to 14th-century England
where he meets and saves the life of a fallen knight (a nearly
unrecognizable Tom Wilkinson). Figuring that he has somehow stumbled
into the new Castle World, Jamal is impressed with the commitment
of the "actors" until it slowly dawns on him that he isn't in South Central
Thanks to a misunderstanding (he tells them he's from Florence
and Normandie, the cross-streets where he lives), Jamal is welcomed
into this strange kingdom as an emissary from a French duke. He
quickly zeroes in on the only black female in the realm -- a
chambermaid named Victoria (Marsha Thomason) who has some rather
progressive ideas. She's part of an underground resistance movement
out to topple the king (Kevin Conway) and restore the deposed
queen (Helen Carey).
Through a serious of missteps that somehow work to his advantage,
Jamal comes to enjoy privilege at the court, but he also incurs the
suspicions of the somewhat nefarious Percival (Vincent Regan).
Eventually, Jamal is recognized as a fraud and must rally a ragtag
band to save the woman he has come to love.
The screenplay by Darryl J. Quarles (who also wrote the Lawrence
hit BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE) and Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow is
unfortunately only fitfully funny. Oddly not enough is made of Lawrence's
strange behavior or dress (it is dismissed with the mocking, "He's
French.") Similarly, Lawrence's antics don't always work; sometimes
they are funny (as when he engages in a boxing match with a couple
of the Percival's henchmen) but other times they start off amusing
and quickly turn tiresome (an ill-advised musical number choreographed
by Paula Abdul where Jamal gets the entire court to sing and dance to
the tune of "Dance to the Music").
Lawrence has his moments as Jamal, but a little of his shtick
goes a long way. Wilkinson, who is so brilliantly understated in
IN THE BEDROOM here does what he can with the dissolute fighter
who regains his spirit thanks to Jamal. (Perhaps the hairdo and beard
are a means for this fine actor to collect a paycheck and hope no one
notices that it's him.) Vincent Regan as the villain resembles a young
Robert Goulet as Lancelot in Camelot, but at least he's a bit more
animated than Goulet ever was. The best performance in the entire
film comes from relative newcomer Marsha Thomason as the feisty
Victoria. Thomason has a natural spark and terrific screen presence
and one hopes that one day soon she'll find a vehicle more worthy of
Still, BLACK KNIGHT has been tailored as a vehicle for Lawrence
and his fans may find it a hoot. Indeed, there are some genuinely funny
moments, but Gil Junger's fitful direction doesn't help matters. There's
a message of being true to yourself and having the courage to take a
stand, which is all well and good, but because it literally is spelled out
for the audience, it comes across more as a bitter medicine than as
something to ponder. BLACK KNIGHT unfortunately is more
disappointing than uplifting.
Running time: 97 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.