Norbit is a vile, stupid little script with a brilliant, incredibly talented performer starring it. Eddie Murphy is so good that he very nearly makes this train wreck work.

Eddie is back doing his multiple character thing. In this film he plays a mild-mannered guy named Norbit. Norbit was raised in an orphanage run by Asians, and Eddie slathers on a bunch of makeup to play its owner Mr. Wong. Norbit grows up and marries a crude, behemoth of a woman named Rasputia. Rasputia is Murphy in a simulated cellulite fat suit. So when Norbit kisses the bride, it’s basically Eddie Murphy making out with himself. Kind of creepy when you think about it.

Norbit is married, but not happy. At first it’s just because his wife is insanely fat, and apparently all fat people are inherently evil. But then I might not be a very nice person either, if the guests at my wedding spent most of the reception comparing me to a hideous gorilla. Later it’s because she’s fat and unfaithful, which gives Norbit license to start cruising for skinny chicks. He finds one in his childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton), who comes back to town to buy the orphanage they grew up and do for their current crop of kids what Mr. Wong did for them. As you might expect, Norbit’s interest in Kate doesn’t go over particularly well with his battleship sized wife.

Some of the film is pretty despicable, and the plot relies on the idea that being fat also means you’re a horrible bitch. But some if it’s also kind of sweet. Eddie’s really quite good as Norbit, the character is sympathetic and funny. He has a strange sort of perfect chemistry with Thandie Newton, and that’s just not something I would have expected.

All the cliché fat jokes that permeate these skinny comedian in a female fat suit movies are there, and they haven’t gotten funnier. You can only laugh at a fat woman breaking a bed while having sex so many times. Luckily, there’s more to the film than flab mockery. It also makes fun of Asian people. Despite that, there are a few decent laughs in Norbit. Eddie’s just too good for the film to completely fail. Imagine what he might have done with a decent script.

Josh Tyler