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NORBIT – David Newman

February 9, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Pity David Newman. No other working composer in Hollywood today has such a disparity between the size of his composing talent and the quality of the films he is asked, or agrees, to score. It has not always been this way. In late 80s and early 1990s, he scored a succession of generally well-regarded highbrow comedy films such as Throw Momma from the Train, Heathers, The War of the Roses, and even the occasional quality drama, like Hoffa in 1992. His career trajectory finally seemed to be taking an upward turn following his double Oscar nomination for Anastasia in 1997, but since then he has found himself in a continual and inexplicable rut, scoring the most inane comedies Hollywood has to offer: the likes of Daddy Day Care, Death to Smoochy and Monster-in-Law. Once in a while something comes along which briefly makes you think he might have turned a corner – Ice Age, or Serenity, for example – but before you know it he’s back again, scoring the new Eddie Murphy comedy. Which brings us to Norbit.

Directed by Brian Robbins, Norbit is the latest in a long line of African-American comedies where the central conceit is the lead actor dressing up as a woman. Martin Lawrence has Big Momma’s House, Tyler Perry has his Mad Black Woman franchise, and having already done the schtick in The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy continues the trend here. Norbit is basically the story of a mis-matched marriage where mild-mannered, weedy Norbit (Murphy) is bullied and abused by his enormously overweight and massively domineering wife, Rasputia (also Murphy). Desperate to escape, he falls for the shy, demure, Kate (Thandie Newton, slumming) – much to Rasputia’s displeasure, who tries everything in her power to stop poor Norbit leaving. And that’s basically it. This paper-thin plot serves as the catalyst to allow Murphy to wear a fat suit and fake dentures, and turn such wonderful topics as obesity and spousal abuse into a comedy for all the family.

One other thing which continues to plague fans of David Newman’s work is how infrequently his scores are released on CD. Since the turn of the millennium, Newman has scored 23 films. Of those, just four – Serenity, The Cat in the Hat, Ice Age and The Affair of the Necklace – have had a dedicated score CD released. The release of Norbit is not a dedicated score CD either, but it does at least feature six of Newman’s cues, amounting to just around 11 minutes of new music.

His cues are a mixed bag, beginning with “Young Norbit”, which has a sense of gently nostalgic orchestral Americana, a pleasant piano-led main theme, and some down-home country orchestrations which sound like the could have come from his brother’s Horse Whisperer score. The main theme re-appears alongside sensitive-sounding acoustic guitars in the charming and gently romantic “Kate Returns”, before segueing into another funky acoustic guitar combo piece in “Tuesday Tuesday”, which for some reason reminds me of the musical intro to the kitsch Hanson hit “Mmmbop” from many years go. There’s a dollop of blue collar rock and roll in “Queen of Whores’, which flashes with heavy electric guitars and Hammond organs, and is even re-imagined as a pseudo-action cue in “Raputia’s Fury”, albeit with the addition of quite sinister-sounding harmonicas. Truly, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or the composer forced to score it. The upbeat finale, “Kate and Norbit”, is a sugary Hollywoodized rendition of the main theme, accompanied by the shimmering strings typical of happy endings.

The songs are all OK enough, and neither add nor detract from the album itself. Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Wanna Be With You” has always been a classic, but most of the rest are nondescript hip-hop and R&B tracks with very little discernible musical value, at least to my ears.

When you compare the two Newman brothers, the direction their respective careers have taken is quite astonishing. Whereas Thomas is scoring quality dramas like Little Children, Angels in America and Cinderella Man, and picking up Oscar nominations for The Good German, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Road to Perdition, David is scoring tripe like this. The payoff may be financial: David Newman’s films are not box office failures (The Flintstones, his highest grosser to date, raked in $195m, and both Ice Age and The Nutty Professor grossed over $180m). It may be that he’s simply happy scoring studio comedies and making a nice little life for himself and his family. It could be that he doesn’t really care for awards, or acclaim, or whether the films he scores are considered to have cinematic merit. Personally, though, I feel that Newman is simply wasting his talent on films such as Norbit, which has so few redeeming factors, and that a man with as much creativity as he has should be working on films with a modicum of artistic intent, at least once in a while. His music has always been great, but really – who cares when you’re scoring images of Eddie Murphy in drag?

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Standing in the Safety Zone (written by Sally Jones, performed by The Fairfield Four) (2:42)
  • It’s Goin’ Down (written by Robinson Jasiel and Chadron Moore, performed by Yung Joc) (4:04)
  • You Did (written by David Rojas and Kate Joy Earl, performed by Kate Joy Earl feat. The Designated Hitters) (2:26)
  • I Only Want to Be With You (written by Michael Hawker and Ivor Raymonde, performed by Dusty Springfield) (2:37)
  • Milkshake (written by Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, performed by Kelis) (3:05)
  • Shoppin’ for Clothes (written by Kent Harris, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, performed by The Coasters (2:58)
  • Walk It Out (written by Anthony Platt, Howard Simmons, Montay Humphreys and Korey Robertson, performed by Unk) (2:55)
  • Looking For You (written by Kirk Franklin, Patrice Rushen, Sheree Brown, Charles Mims and Fred Washington, performed by Kirk Franklin) (4:07)
  • Sweet Honey (written by Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald, performed by Slightly Stoopid) (3:52)
  • The Hands of Time (written by Clyde Dixon and Carl Walker, performed by Perfect Circle) (6:20)
  • Young Norbit (3:34)
  • Queen of Whores (0:46)
  • Kate Returns/Tuesday Tuesday (3:25)
  • Norbit Sneaks Out (0:33)
  • Rasputia’s Fury (1:45)
  • Norbit and Kate (0:45)

Running Time: 45 minutes 51 seconds

Lakeshore LKS-339032 (2007)

Music composed and conducted by David Newman. Orchestrations by Greg Jamrok. Featured musical soloists Marty Frasu, Tony Mandracchia, Billy Sullivan and Dona Oxford. Album produced by Jennifer Hawks.

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