Imagine being beaten, drugged and tortured until your spirit is in tatters, looking on helplessly as small chunks of your brain are eaten in front of your eyes. While this might sound like a diabolical scenario out of a horror movie, it also accurately describes the sensation of sitting through Norbit. Indeed, Eddie Murphy's latest slapstick fat-suit-drag nightmare is so horrific it makes the gruesome new Hannibal Lecter prequel seem like knee-slapping hilarity in comparison. The arrival of these two grim multiplex spectacles in the same week could be an omen of the apocalypse, or it could just be the middle of February. While it might seem strange to compare such different flicks, either one will punish viewers in almost unspeakable ways, so it's fair to ask: Which one is scarier?
Believe it or not, there are some areas of overlap between the two, aside from the obvious theme of sheer suckitude; let's go to the tale of the tape.
Asian stereotypes: Hannibal Rising features Chinese actress Gong Li playing Hannibal's Japanese mentor/love interest/ incestuous aunt. Not only does she pray to her ancestor's suit of armor, burn far too many candles and engage in Mr. Miaygi style martial-arts training sessions with Lecter, but she has a deep kinky death fetish because her family was wiped out in Hiroshima. Meanwhile, Eddie Murphy slaps on prosthetic "yellow face" to play Mr. Wong, Norbit's surrogate father/heckler/chow mien peddler, with an appalling "ching chong Chinaman" accent that sets movie comedy back at least 40 years.
Psychology: Oddly, both title characters are reared in orphanages, but with opposite results. Hannibal Rising lays heavily on the nurture side of the endless Locke vs. Descartes debate, stupidly trying to explain away a monster through massive childhood trauma. We get to see how he develops his antisocial bloodlust and taste for human hamburger, through prolonged cruelty, and revoltingly, because Nazi goons ate his little sister. Gross. On the flip side, Norbit, despite abandonment, abuse, ridicule and constant degradation, mostly remains the same humble, sweet-natured moron he's always been.
Villains: The homicidal, flesh-chomping lunatic is actually the hero in Hannibal, the bad guys are an even more despicable collection of cartoonish war criminals that the bad doctor systematically hunts down. Even more repugnant is the sight of Murphy buried under tons of rubber as the Rasputia, a vain, ignorant, boorish, gluttonous spouse-abusing monstrosity who torments an entire town with the help of her thuggish brothers.
Tone: One is plodding, drab and brutally oppressive; the other is loud, grating and ruthlessly dumb. Both hurt.
Carnage: Hannibal is a catalogue of atrocities including, stabbing, slashing, impaling, decapitations, face chewing and indistinct euro-trash accents. Norbit is loaded with fart jokes, foul sex gags, potty jokes, and Murphy in drag, slipping a tiny thong over a morbidly obese booty before destroying a water slide. Oh, and there's also Cuba Gooding Jr.
In the end, it's safe to say that both of these turkeys can cause permanent psychic damage to innocent audiences, but one is so utterly wretched it will haunt you forever.
Loser: All of us.Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]