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'Black Knight'

Jests mostly fall flat in 'Black Knight'

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Early in the movie "Black Knight," a 14th-century monarch observes a newcomer in the kingdom and marvels: "You have to admire his commitment. He's no longer funny, but he refuses to give up on the joke."

"Black Knight"

RATING: PG-13 for language, sexual/crude humor, battle violence and scene of man being executed and head later placed on pike.

STARRING: Martin Lawrence

DIRECTOR: Gil Junger

WEB SITE: www.blackknight



Just like Martin Lawrence in this very common comedy.

It tries to pass off Wilmington, N.C., as merry old England and sends Martin into humor hyperdrive as he attempts to carry this movie on his shoulders. Brian Dennehy's shoulders wouldn't be wide enough for this task. "Black Knight" is no "Big Momma's House," which worked better on so many levels.

Lawrence plays Jamal Walker, a fastidious South Central resident who works at a rundown theme park called Medieval World. It bills itself as a "family fun center," but the only fun you'd have there would be trying to escape without catching anything.

When Jamal reaches for a golden medallion floating in the fetid moat, he is transported back to the year 1328, when executioners still wield the ax, chambermaids are sent to bedrooms like fresh towels and food is passed by (unclean) hand -- literally.

Jamal is mistaken for a messenger from Normandy and also declares himself a jester, to explain his horrid horseback-riding skills. He is embraced by the self-appointed king (Kevin Conway), smitten with a chambermaid named Victoria (Marsha Thomason) who fancies modern notions, and despised by a knight named Percival (Vincent Regan). Victoria is among a band of silent rebels who want to return their deposed queen to the throne, and Jamal's medallion gains him instant access to that circle.

Jamal, who never demonstrated much loyalty to Medieval World, suddenly finds his fidelity tested and his leadership abilities stirred. He turns to what he knows and finds that Tiger Woods' golf swing can come in handy, if you substitute a sword for a Titleist Titanium 975D.

"Black Knight" barely scratches the surface of Jamal's life before he is sucked into the moat, so little ground is laid for the expected transformation. Often, though, the comedy credited to three writers plays like a series of bits -- Jamal suggesting a homeless knight (Tom Wilkinson) sign up for food stamps, Jamal asking for a bathroom and being introduced to the castle privy, Jamal jammin' to "Dance to the Music."

Directed by Gil Junger ("10 Things I Hate About You"), "Black Knight" has a low-rent look and feel to it. Maybe if the material had been stronger, none of the trappings would have mattered.

"Black Knight" also resorts to that horror film mainstay where the audience is led to believe someone is dead and, lo and behold, the person is not. You cannot fault Lawrence, who tries his darndest to make us laugh. Sometimes it works; more often, it doesn't.

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