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Introduction
Martin Lawrence is a well known name in comedy, and although he's tried very hard to translate his success from the small to the big screen his films are pretty hit and miss at the box office, with some going on to earn over 100 million dollars (Big Momma's House), with others like "What's the Worst that Can Happen?" crashing and burning. To be fair I've never really cared for his brand of comedy in either film, stand up or television form. He's never really clicked with me the way fellow comedians and guys with a similar background Adam Sandler and Chris Rock have.  The last Martin flick I actively sought out in seeing was 2000's "Big Momma's House" but that was not for Martin as much as it was for supporting actor Paul Giamatti. I didn't like that film so when the trailer came along for "Black Knight" I wasn't really up for that one either. This might have something to do with the fact that I was working in a theatre showing a movie that this was the attached trailer on so I heard it twice daily for a week.  Nevertheless I'm willing to give almost any film a chance and when I'm wrong about a picture I'll be the first one to admit. In the case of "Black Knight" I seem to have been right all along.

Black Knight
Movie
Jamal (Martin Lawrence) likes to think of himself as a total player but in actuality he's just another barely employed worker at a local theme park. He's at the bottom of the food chain and his constant tardiness at work lands him with the job's no one wants like cleaning out the dirty and disgusting moat. One day the boss Mrs Bostick (Isabel Monk) calls a meeting and explains that a new competitor "Castle World" is opening in two weeks. Jamal tries to get her to sell while she can but she insists on staying put, thinking that she can compete. Jamal goes back to work cleaning the moat and finds a lovely necklace. He goes to scoop it out and falls in the water. Before you know he wakes up but the surrounding area has changed. It appears that Jamal has travelled back in time to the middle ages but he seems to think he's somehow just gone down the highway to the new theme park. It's not long before he's put to the test as he finds an obviously drunk man by the name of Knolte (Tom Wilkinson) by the side of the riverbed. The only problem is that he's not breathing. Jamal manages to revive him and after a brief conversation is on his way to the castle. Somehow he manages to make his way inside and before you know it the King thinks he's a messenger from Normandy and a royal servant.  Inside the castle he meets Victoria (Marsha Thomason) the only black woman in the colony who he immediately falls in love with. The rest of the film sees Jamal trying to continue his 'act' as the royal duke while ultimately trying to lure the lovely Victoria to his bed. Also he somehow unknowingly becomes attached to a rebellion against the evil King who took the thrown from the people's Queen.  

"Black Knight" takes your basic sitcom plot line of the fish out of water and magnifies it a number of times until you have what ends up to be a very expensive take on an already overused concept. The situations Lawrence's Jamal finds himself in are so by the book that anyone who's seen one or two of these types of films before will be able to see them coming a mile away. For an example every single one of these films has the typical language barrier issue where the expressions the character is using holds a totally different meaning. In "Black Knight" Jamal explains that he comes from the corner of "Florence and Normandy" and the castle guards let him in thinking he is the messenger the king has been expecting from the city of Normandy.  The films writing team of Darryl Quales, Peter Gualke and Gerry Swallow's don't really utilize any original ideas of their own instead insist of borrowing scenes from other more successful motion pictures. In one instance they copy one of my favourite scenes from "A Knight's Tale" where in that picture the mistaken Knight has to demonstrate a traditional dance of his country. In "Black Knight" Jamal is asked to demonstrate a dance of Normandy. Although the scenes both work in slightly different ways I can't help but think how much the writing team on this film was hurting to so blatantly borrow a scene from a film that was only a number of month's old.

Director Gil Junger comes from a sitcom background and this is evident by the way the film is handled. The film plays out much like an extended version of a sitcom but without adding any additional jokes to accommodate the extra length. There are moments throughout the film that are indeed funny but they are so few and far between the final product just doesn't seem funny. It's not unfunny but it's far from a laugh riot. A couple of scenes that stood out in my mind were the aforementioned dance sequence and a scene where Jamal is hitting on a servant of the king who is surprised to learn that he can read and write. There were a few other jokes sprinkled throughout the film that caused minor smiles on my face but there is nothing at all in the film that caused me to laugh out loud. Pacing is also a bit of a problem for Junger as the film begins to drag near the middle section. I find this a bit surprising considering I found very little in the way of problems with his other feature "10 Things I Hate About You". The characters also don't really have a great deal of depth to them even for a comedy and while it's inevitable that Jamal will shape up and become a hero the way it occurs isn't very realistic. The change was not very progressive and it seemed a bit forced. Another huge problem is that Junger sets up all these subplots that end up going absolutely nowhere. They are all but forgotten until the end when they are suddenly and unconvincingly tied up.

Black Knight
In terms of performances this is very much a one man show for Martin Lawrence who earned a whopping 16.5 million dollars for appearing in this film. Lawrence's Jamal is very much a stereotypical character and though he tries hard to overcome it there really isn't much he could do to change that. His comedic timing is fine at some points and way off at others. I've never really cared for Lawrence and this film doesn't change that. I think that while he has his fans he's a tad overrated and should be earning a smaller paycheque until he proves himself as a consistent box office draw. In a “what was he thinking?” move, acclaimed actor and academy award nominee for "In the Bedroom" Tom Wilkinson plays Sir Knolte, an often drunk Knight who was one head of security for the now deposed Queen. Wilkinson who was so very good in "In the Bedroom" seems wasted in this film. I appreciate his attempt to do comedy but he could and should have chosen a better role.  Marsha Thomason shines in the role of Victoria, the trademark love interest for Jamal and the one who manages to change his suspect ways. She's an English native who appears to have primarily been seen in British television series like "Prime Suspect" and "Pie in the Sky". Although Marsha's character doesn't really have much to do when she's on screen it makes the film more bearable.

"Black Knight" isn't really very successful in any respect. It has a number of problems none the least of which it's really not all that funny. I'm not a hard guy to please when it comes to comedy in general you just have to have a high laugh quota without resorting to extremely juvenile means to get it and I'm pleased. I guess in terms of comedies this one falls smack dab in the middle of the pact where it's not funny but it's not unfunny either. I wish there was more to laugh at in the film and perhaps with a different lead actor like Chris Rock I wouldn't find this material so much of a rehash. As it stands this film is hit and miss with far more misses then hits. It's not nearly as bad as "Corky Romano" or "Showtime" but it's not nearly as funny as "Van Wilder" or the "American Pie" films either.

Video
20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises teamed up for "Black Knight" and like all Fox day and date releases they present it with a lovely 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer.  Being the epic comedy it is the film was shot in the scope format, which surprises me since in general comedies tend to unfold in the narrower 1.85:1 format.  In terms of image quality this is a pretty nice transfer overall with very few problems. The cinematography by Ueil Steiger (Singles, Austin Powers: Spy Who Shagged Me, Bowfinger) gives the film a visually pleasing look with scenes of the castle looking downright impressive. Colours appear natural and are well saturated with the grey tones of the castle and green tones of the forest standing out ahead of the pack. Martin's football jersey is a deep well defined green as well. The image is a bit soft compared to most new releases but that's not to say that the film is in anyway overly soft. Director Gil Junger explains his motivations behind shooting the film that way during his director's commentary track.  On the negative side there are very few flaws as no marks appear on the print. There is some edge enhancement that while present isn't really all that much of a distraction, no pixelation was seen and I'm happy to report that the brick castle is free of shimmering. Back over to the positives the black levels are strong and the layer change while noticeable on my system was well placed. All in all another excellent transfer from Fox.

Audio
"Black Knight" is presented on DVD with a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This is a comedic picture first and foremost so I wasn't really expecting anything all that special in the audio department, as comedies tend to stick to the front of the sound stage. "Black Knight" surprised me not because it still falls in this category but for the moments where things open up and a hint of what could have been shines through. It's not an overly active mix by any stretch of the imagination but there are a number of scenes where the surrounds are engaged to provide a more exciting listening experience. These scenes occur sort of as bookends as the film's opening and closing audio are most definitely the high points. Scenes providing the most punch are obviously the action scenes, which come with a nice and powerful low end. Surround speakers are also used for some moderate ambience but there is room for much more.  Music is presented crystal clearly alternating between modern hip-hop/rap and the semi heroic score by Randy Edelman (The Last of the Mohicans). Dialog is always easy to hear even though there are a number of cringe worthy lines throughout the film that I didn't really care to hear. The mix was well done with no one aspect overpowering another but don't get me wrong this is essentially another simple comedy mix.

Extras
Although not officially knighted as a Special Edition, 20th Century Fox has certainly included a royal amount of bonus materials on this disc.

Kicking it all off we have an audio commentary with director Gil Junger who is probably best known for his direction of numerous sitcoms in the past five or six years including "3rd Rock from the Sun", "According to Jim", "Action", "Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place". This is his second feature length film and his first audio commentary track. I wasn't really looking forward to listening to this track after watching the film itself but I'm glad I did as Junger provides a fairly decent track detailing all aspects of the production. The track tends to be interesting in spots but boring in others. On one hand Junger talks about how happy he is to be directing such a huge budget film with a big name star like Lawrence and is quick to lavish praise for anyone involved in the project. While on the other hand Junger does give a detailed account of the production. Fans of the film are liable to get more out of this then I did but it is a worthwhile listen regardless.

Continuing what appears to be a recent trend on 20th Century Fox discs we have a feature entitled "Martin on Movie making" which is just a fancy name for a scene specific commentary. Martin Lawrence sits down to discuss his thoughts on two scenes from the film, which are aptly named "Sir Knolte" and "Saddle Sores". Each scene runs between two and five minutes and has Martin appearing in the bottom right hand corner of the screen offering his thoughts. I was expecting a lot more out of this as Lawrence seems pretty subdued as he pauses a number of times during this brief amount of time.

There are a number of discs that feature outtakes, some of which at times are funnier then the movie itself. This is the case with "Black Knight" as while I found the movie seriously lacking in things to laugh at there are no shortages of laughs to be had during this all too short two-minute out take reel. I only wish this collection of out takes was longer and that more of this type of material had been included in the film as it is actually funny something that the film isn't.

Three deleted scenes with optional commentary from director Gil Junger make their way on to the disc and it's clear why they didn't make the final cut. All three scenes aren't really needed to progress the story any further and simply exist for Martin Lawrence's character to make some idiotic comment or do some physical comedic stunt. The first one entitled "Nightclub" is the best of the bunch but seems as if it was taken from a different film, as I couldn't find anything that tied it to the story. It looks it could have been from a prologue that was completely excised from the picture.  

Making up the bulk of the disc however are a series of featurettes dealing with different aspects of the film. The first one "A Timeless Friendship" runs for approximately nine-minutes and concentrates on the characters portrayed in the film. Interviews and discussions with actors Martin Lawrence, Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), Marsha Thomason, director Gil Younger and members of the production team talk about what attracted them to the project and the different type of backgrounds that they brought to the project. The second of four featurettes is "Parapets and Pitfalls" which focuses on the stunt and action segments of the film as well some of the physical comedy bits.  Not unlike the previous featurette this segment is made up of a combination of interviews and film footage and while there is some insight to be learned here it really doesn't make for a memorable six-minutes.  "Choreography" is a short piece on the films dance sequence, which is actually one of the funnier scenes in the film. In this featurette Paula Abdul talks about how she envisioned the scene and how she let Martin bring it to life. Saving the best for last is a four-minute look at the "Construction" of the film's castle set and medieval village. I was actually pretty impressed with the castle in the film and wondered how it was accomplished. This four-minute look dives head first into the process and thoughts of the production designer and set construction team. If only it could have been more in depth.

In terms of promotional oriented features we have two different trailers for "Black Knight" as well as the trailers for the upcoming "Minority Report" and "Unfaithful". All trailers are presented at 1.85:1 and with Dolby 2.0 sound and with the exception of the "Unfaithful" spot which is presented full-frame.

Also included are storyboard-to-screen comparisons for two scenes.

Black Knight
Overall
"Black Knight" is another in a long line of Martin Lawrence films that really haven't struck me as being particularly funny. It's not that it's painful to watch, as some comedies can be, it's just that it doesn't do anything to differentiate itself from the pack. 20th Century Fox has done their usual terrific work on this DVD by including a strong video transfer, an above average audio track for a comedy and a decent amount of bonus materials that will appeal more to Lawrence's fans then to his critics. Despite this I can't recommend the film as anything more then a rental. If you’re a fan of the film you'll no doubt want to pick up this DVD. The same goes for fans of Lawrence's work. Others would be best giving the "Black Knight" a shot on a trial basis. A strong DVD for an average film.


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