Whenever he really wants to be–as in, say, his hosting stint on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam”; his Fox sitcom; or the film “Bad Boys”–Martin Lawrence can be hysterically funny. You’d never guess that from watching the remarkably wasteful endeavor known as “Black Knight.”
Not that Lawrence’s comic talents haven’t already been squandered in his recent projects; even his two big breakthroughs, “Blue Streak” and “Big Momma’s House,” fell short of showing what he’s capable of. But at least in those two films–or all his others, for that matter–he isn’t playing the complete buffoon that he does in “Black Knight.” His Jamal Walker is an unmotivated worker at a Southern California family fun center who one day is somehow transported back to 14th century England, where he gets caught up in a movement against a corrupt king. The usual fish-out-of-water gags ensue (including the obligatory anachronistic dance sequence to a modern song, here “Dance to the Music”) as does a forced romance (between Jamal and a comely young–and race-appropriate, for Hollywood dare not have Lawrence genuinely fall for a white woman–chambermaid). None of the goings-on eliciting more than the faintest of smiles, if even that.
But far more ruinous than the virtual lack of laughs is the Jamal character, who is such an idiotic loudmouth that very little of him goes a very long way–and a long way Jamal indeed goes, for he doesn’t much change from the film’s start to it’s all too welcome finish, which doesn’t come soon enough, thanks to the slack pacing. As funny as Lawrence can be, he’s a performer whose inclination to fly over the top needs to be held in check, but director Gil Junger gives him free rein, which in the case of this role just worsens the problem. Then again, it appears Junger didn’t direct much at all; in addition to the unusual drag for a 95-minute movie, a whole it’s just plain sloppy. Nothing says more than one scene Jamal freaks out over a man who’s stopped breathing–yet the actor’s chest is still visibly moving. At least Junger resisted the urge to further torture moviegoers with an end credit reel of pointless outtake footage showing him “hilariously” pop into random scenes, as he did with his last film, 10 Things I Hate About You.