The knight life has never been more hilarious!
The time of swords and sorcery has been the setting for many a motion picture. It's also been the theme for movies dealing with someone from the future fooling around in the past. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking of Army of Darkness and Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure. Heck, this premise has been around so long that even the celebrated American author Mark Twain tooled with the idea of a New York Yankee in King Author's Court (can you guess which book I'm referring to?). Of course, I guess it was only a matter of time before Martin Lawrence took a stab at this idea (well, better him than Mark Curry, but let's not even ponder that horror). Starring as a theme park worker who gets sent back to the medieval times, Lawrence and Oscar nominee (!) Tom Wilkinson star in Fox's comedy/adventure Black Knight.
Facts of the Case
Jamal (Lawrence) is a self serving worker at "Medieval World," a dying theme park for kids and families. Soon to be opening near "Medieval World" is a new and better theme park that will most likely drive the old theme park out of business. One day as Jamal is cleaning out the filth -ncrusted moat he comes upon a shiny medallion. As he reaches to grab the trinket, he's suddenly sucked into the moat and reappears in the 14th century! At first Jamal thinks he's in the new theme park, but soon realizes that he's actually been transported into the past where the malicious King Leo (Kevin Conway, Mark Twain) and his right hand knight Percival (Vincent Regan, B. Monkey) have taken over the kingdom and terrorized the inhabitants! After slyly gaining entrance to the castle and accidentally saving the King from an assassination attempt, Jamal is given prestige and title by the thankful King Leo. In-between spurting off comments about the bathroom situation and gagging on the food, Jamal saves a disgraced knight (Tom Wilkinson, In The Bedroom) and makes nice-nice with one of the King's female baubles Victoria (Marsha Thomason, Safe) who asks Jamal's help in the revolution against the King. Now Jamal must dig deep inside himself to find the courage to stand up to the unruly King and get back to 2001!
I can tell you the exact moment when I lost any and all faith in Black Knight. At one point in the film, Lawrence's character is asked to get up at a medieval party and dance. I slowly rose my hand to my face and started to weep silently. I knew exactly where this was headed. Soon Lawrence was asking the musicians to play an upbeat tune…which turned into the '70s funk hit "Dance To The Music." To add insult to injury, Lawrence's character not only danced but was also able to get the king, his daughter, and all the entire room to move like they were on "Soul Train." It was in this extremely clarifying moment that I realized I was watching the devolution of cinema happening right before my very eyes.
Martin Lawrence is starting to become synonymous with the title "unfunny." I've never seen the guy doing stand-up (which I hear is funny), but I have seen his TV show Martin (which ran for a few seasons, so someone must have liked it), and I've had the unpleasant experience of viewing What's The Worst That Can Happen?, Big Momma's House, and Blue Streak. That list reads like a rogue's gallery of comedies you should never see.
I think I've driven the point home that I don't particularly care for Lawrence's brand of comedy. If you're riding in the same boat, then by all means skip Black Knight. This movie is Lawrence's show, and the whole thing is one big backdrop for him to sputter, flail, and look longingly at women's rears. Personally, I love the idea of sending someone from the present back in time (the unbelievably better Back to the Future is one of my favorite films). I think it holds some great comedic possibilities. Black Knight sidesteps many of these opportunities in lieu of Lawrence making six thousand different faces for the camera, none of them funny.
In an interview with director Gil Junger (10 Things I Hate About You), it's noted that he wanted Lawrence to "act like himself" in this film. Didn't anyone notice that this works against, and not for, the story? If I wanted to see Martin Lawrence as Martin Lawrence, I'd watch his interviews or TV show. That being said, the character of Jamal is Lawrence, so probing deeply into his motivation seems to be a moot point. The opening scene of Black Knight features Lawrence "comically" getting ready for his day in the washroom (i.e., using tweezers on his nose hair, brushing his teeth, et cetera). That's the deepest character insight you're likely to pull from this movie. Poor Tom Wilkinson looks as if he took on this role just for the paycheck. Kevin Conway, so vile in movies like The Quick and The Dead and Funny Farm, is given little to do here but sneer and growl (I can see the director's instructions: "Okay Kevin, your motivation here is…err…oh, hell…this is Martin's movie. Just give the camera a dirty look so we can take an early lunch break"). The rest of the cast, including the attractive Marsha Thomason and the bland Vincent Regan, all just twirl around Lawrence like planets as if he were the center sun to this whole fiasco.
Black Knight gives nothing new to the fish-out-of-water genre—no surprises, no excitement, no fun moments of zeal. By the end of the picture we know that Jamal will A.) have a complex swordfight with the bad guys, B.) get the girl and C.) have taught 14th century peasants how to dance, Rick James style. And as the end credits roll, I'm betting that much like myself, you'll be heading to your outhouse to wash this movie off your skin.
Black Knight is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Say what you will about the film, but this transfer looks great. The colors and black levels are all dead-on and very bright while imperfections were kept to the bare minimum. I spotted only the slightest amount of edge enhancement in a few scenes, and that's about it. Fox has done a very nice job on this image.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. I was fairly impressed with how good this mix sounded. There are multiple moments where the speakers are engaged fully and bombastically. Directional effects are used often and thoroughly while ambient and background sounds are constant throughout the film. No distortion or hiss is heard through any of the dialogue, effects, or music. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, as well as Dolby Surround soundtracks in Spanish and French.
Why is it that the crappy movies always get special treatment, yet the good films are often released shoddily and without much care? Your guess is as good as mine. As for Black Knight, Fox has included a cauldron's worth of materials here, starting with a commentary track by director Gil Junger. I knew that Junger was full of BS when right off the bat he makes the comment that "every cell of this man's body [Martin Lawrence] is funny." Mr. Junger, I think you need to raise the bar on your comedic standards. Otherwise, this is a pretty typical commentary featuring production stories, slathering the star with accolades, et cetera. The scene-specific commentary track by Lawrence adds little to your knowledge of the film—in fact, Lawrence's commentary consists of Fox slapping on a previously recorded interview over the scene he's discussing.
An outtakes reel includes some halfway humorous flubs by the cast and crew (another sad case of the cast's mistakes being funnier then what ended up on screen). Three deleted scenes are included with optional commentary by the director. None of these scenes are exceptionally interesting, though I did learn that the talented and funny actor Daryl Mitchell (The John Larroquette Show, Galaxy Quest) was recently paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. Very, very sad to hear.
Two featurettes are included, "A Timeless Friendship" and "Parapets & Pratfalls." The first featurette includes interviews with Lawrence, actor Tom Wilkinson, director Gil Junger, and producer Paul Schiff. The bulk of this featurette focuses on the production and story aspects of the film. The second featurette leans towards the stunts and slapstick pratfalls by the actors and stuntmen. Neither of these add much to the disc, though they should interest those who are fans of the film.
Two storyboard-to-screen comparisons are included and, as expected, are typical storyboards inserted with the scene they were drawn for. "Construction" is a short featurette that includes interviews with production designer Leslie Dilley. This was probably my favorite feature on the disc as it showed a lot of behind-the-scenes production work and discussion on how the set was constructed. "Choreography" is yet another short feature on the dance hall scene which was choreographed by '80s pop diva Paula Abdul (also known as ex-Ms. Emilio Estevez). For you fans of dance this will be invaluable. For the rest of us it's a snoozer.
'Tis better for thee to stickith a hot poker up thy rear than to sit and watch-ith Black Knight.
Guilty and sentenced to a beheading! Court adjourned!
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Scales of Justice
• Full-Length Commentary by Director Gil Junger
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