Black Knight

on November 21, 2001 by Wade Major
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The good news about “Black Knight” is that it's nowhere near as terrible as most people are probably expecting it to be. To be sure, the idea of twisting Mark Twain's “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court” into yet another low-brow fish-out-of-water comedy is as distasteful as cookie-cutter Hollywood formulas come, but the manic excesses of Martin Lawrence, like those of Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey before him, so grossly overpower everything around him that it's hard to be overly judgmental. At the end of the day, for better or worse, “Black Knight” is a Martin Lawrence movie. Take it or leave it.

The obvious Twain lineage notwithstanding, “Black Knight” is perhaps more akin to films like “Groundhog Day,” in which supernatural events bring knowledge and experience to those most desperately in need. This isn't to say that “Black Knight” is even close to approximating the originality or entertainment value of “Groundhog Day,” but for fans of Lawrence's brand of comedy, it's as close as they're likely to get.

Lawrence stars as Jamal Walker, a self-centered low-level worker at an inner city miniature golf park who's only too ready to sell his coworkers and neighborhood down the river by defecting to splashy new theme park Castle World when he is magically transported to 14th-century England and plopped squarely in the middle of an uprising. The evil king, who has deposed a beloved queen, takes Jamal for a French messenger, while Jamal believes that he's simply being tested for a position at Castle World. But by the time reality finally dawns on him, it's too late. The King's enemies have taken Jamal for one of their own, placing their trust in the courage and charity of a man who, until this moment, was neither charitable nor trustworthy.

The obvious jokes are dispensed with early on--many of them predictably crude and scatological--leaving the film's latter half to ride on the strength of genre formula. It's a risk, to be sure, given that Lawrence's popular persona is best suited to the Jamal without a conscience. But to Lawrence's credit, the film stays its course and Jamal remains endearing even as he becomes less amusing.

The obligatory supporting figures fall into place like chess pieces--a love interest (Marsha Thomason), the King's evil henchman (Vincent Regan), and a disgraced knight in need of redemption (the redoubtable Tom Wilkinson)--all distinguished British actors who treat their roles with a degree of seriousness that comfortably counter-balances Lawrence's overbearing disregard for any kind of seriousness at all. It's not art, but it works for what it is. Starring Martin Lawrence, Marsha Thomason, Tom Wilkinson and Vincent Regan. Directed by Gil Junger. Written by Darryl J. Quarles and Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Darryl J. Quarles, Michael Green and Paul Schiff. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual/crude humor and battle violence. Running time: 90 min

Tags: Starring Martin Lawrence, Marsha Thomason, Tom Wilkinson and Vincent Regan. Directed by Gil Junger. Written by Darryl J. Quarles and Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Darryl J. Quarles, Michael Green, Paul Schiff, Fox, Comedy
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