The Black Knight

Poor Martin Lawrence. He's seems to be stuck in an unusual position, considered by some to be a poor-man's Will Smith and other a poor-man's Eddie Murphy. Unfortunately he doesn't display any of the cool wit of Murphy or comic skills of Smith in...........................WAIT WAIT WAIT. .............This review is the same as What's The Worse That Could Happen? Also starring Martin Lawrence. Hmmm, its worrying when that happens. Lets' start afresh.

Martin Lawrence used to be funny. Fact. Cast your mind back to Bad Boys, House Party, Big Momma's House and more importantly his stand-up comedy. There's no denying that he has talent, but after seeing The Black Knight, one wonders where it has gone.

Black Knight begins in South Central LA, with Jamal Walker (Martin Lawrence) brushing his teeth and going to work. Jamal works at a run-down medieval theme park and is worried that the bigger and better medieval theme park opening a few blocks away will put him and his co-workers out of business. On this particular day, whilst cleaning the moat, he spots a shiny gold medallion and in trying to grab, falls into the moat. Gasping for air, Jamal is helped out of a pond by someone who he assumes is a tramp, and is magically transported to 14th Century England.

Thus Jamal's adventure begins, he stumbles across a castle (which he assumes is the rival park a few blocks away from his place of employment). At the castle he is mistaken for a Normandy messenger and after an audience with the evil despot king, played with no sense of malice whatsoever by Kevin Conway, Jamal is given a tour of the palace - he still thinks it's a theme park until he witnesses a beheading and foolishly picks up the severed head. Now that Jamal finally 'gets it' he initially decides to escape back to the pond and back to his own time, unfortunately he has spied a lady-in-waiting Victoria (Marsha Thomason) and then decides to stay. Things are further complicated with the King appointing him as court jester extraordinaire and the obligatory evil right-hand-knight-to-the-King taking an immense disliking to Jamal.

On top of this Victoria is part of a secret rebellion trying to get the true Queen her throne back, plus the 'tramp' at the beginning turns out to be a dissolute knight Knolte (Tom Wilkinson) loyal also to the Queen resurfaces. Adding the fact that the King's daughter takes a fancy to our hero and Jamal finally gets rumbled as the real messenger from Normandy turns up, he ends up on the executioners block. Needless to say, Jamal escapes to become an integral part of the rebellion, teaching the rebels to fight (using American Football and basketball techniques), restoring the honour and nobility in Knolte and finding his own sense of true worth. Obviously the newly vitalised rebels win the day, the true Queen regains her throne and Jamal gets the girl.

Unfortunately the film is very uneven and lacks the laughs that the trailer seduces us with. Every joke is either a cliché or just falls over like a Knight on an unstable rocking horse. The comedy is obviously between the contrast between times and culture, and The Black Knight does have its amusing moments. The best scene has Jamal trying to teach the 'rhythm-less' court to dance by inspiring the court musicians to play Sly & The Family Stones' Dance To The Music. Unfortunately, the film cannot keep this level of amusement up and has only a very small handful of funny moments.

The direction is very 'sitcom', but that is not surprising when you find out that the director Gil Junger's claim to fame is in the TV sitcom world. His works include Ellen, The John Larroquette Show and Benson. As a result of this pedigree, the film seems as if it could have been a weekly show stretched out to fill 95 minutes. It is filled with clichés and plot contrivances. For example, it's nice that Victoria happens to be the only black lady-in-waiting in England it seems - convenient (I'll wager an unladen European Swallow that if this film had a white star, Marsha Thomason would have not had a look in). The film is also ready-packed with toilet humour and sight gags.

Martin Lawrence's performance can be described as painfully unfunny, as he spends most of his time swapping between pulling faces at the camera, looking at things with a really stupid expression on his face (Bill & Ted would have been proud) to being a sexual obsessive. It is as if Lawrence is fulfilling some sort of contractual obligation by being in this film. After all, the producer also happens to be the head of his management company..................hmmmm. The rest of the cast also seem as if they are just going through the motions - waiting to grab their pay cheques and then run like the wind. They seem to know that they will not get the chance to shine with this material.

Basing a 95-minute film on the pretence of South-Central-Brother-In-Medieval-England-Hood really needs more jokes that just the overall idea. Black Knight really falls short of Martin Lawrence's usual comic prowess. If you really want medieval humour, rent Monty Python's Quest For The Holy Grail and watch that (again and again). As one of the characters says about Jamal "You have to admire his commitment. It's no longer funny, but he refuses to give up on the joke". A truer line has never been said. It's amazing that the filmmakers left that in that line, perhaps they were feeling self-reflective.

Watch out for that quote Mr Lawrence, art imitates life, get your career back on track - phone Will Smith and get Bad Boys 2 up and running.

SCORE 4/10