Review by Amy Harlib
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for language, sexual/crude humor and battle violence. Runtime: 95 Country: USA
Described as either a great movie for Martin Lawrence fans or
"the worst movie I've ever seen", I'm pretty sure how you'll
feel about Black Knight depends on how you feel about the star. For me,
the chilling thought of what the English language would look like today
if it had an infusion of street talk is both amusing and chilling. It's
ironic that in the enlightened new millennium, Black Comedy has gone
from meaning a story about dark ideas to a story about dark people. -
Gil Junger, experienced in directing contemporary sit-coms, uses this background to helm a comedy/fantasy feature, an African-American take on the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court time-traveling theme. Black Knight, a vehicle for the well-known comedian-of-color Martin Lawrence, features him in the role of vain and self-centered Jamal "Sky" Walker, a denizen of present-day South Central, Los Angeles. He, along with his buddy Steve (Daryl Mitchell), works for the resourceful Mrs. Bostick (Isabell Monk) at the financially struggling Medieval World Family Fun Center theme park threatened further by Castle World, a competing enterprise due to open in a couple of weeks.
The plot really commences when, while cleaning out the murky moat, Jamal tries to reach a gleaming medallion on a chain lying on the bottom, he falls into the water and gets magically transported by the necklace into England circa 1328. Not realizing this at first and dazed and confused by his unscheduled slip and dip, Jamal thinks he somehow stumbled into Castle World, a place of impressive detail and verisimilitude.
Near the imposing castle, Jamal meets Sir Knolte (Tom Wilkinson), a former knight now a loner given to drink and a character later to prove very important in subsequent events. Within the environs of the immense edifice, and going along with what he believes to be an elaborate production involving various actors, Jamal gets mistaken as the messenger for the Duke of Normandy expected to arrive shortly for a marriage alliance with the lusty Princess Regina (Jeannette Weegar). Jamal must then cope with Regina's father King Leo (Kevin Conway), a despotic and corrupt ruler and his no-nonsense #1 henchman Percival (Vincent Regan), who doesn't much care for the foreigner he consistently calls the Moor.
Culture-shock, fish-out-of-the-water jokes abound while Jamal gradually realizes where and when he is and that he'd better get used to it, an endeavor made easier by the gorgeous and sharp-witted Victoria (Marsha Thomason), a "Nubian" royal chambermaid and romantic interest for the protagonist. Victoria soon enlists Jamal in her cause---a rebellion against the tyrannical monarch and for the reinstatement of the benevolent Queen (Helen Carey).
Leading participants in the uprising sport identical medallions to the one Jamal found, indicating magic at work to bring him to the time and place in need of a potential savior. The outcome of all this, involving the maturation of Jamal leading to his assuming the heroic titular role and the rehabilitation of Sir Knolte, despite its predictability, gets enlivened by the antics of the star.
A number of comedic set-pieces make Black Knight worth watching, including Jamal's: attempts to ride a fierce charger; reaction to 14th century unsanitary facilities; confronting period table manners; using and teaching fellow rebels 21st century boxing and martial arts moves; various goofy strategies wooing Victoria; and best of all---getting an entire royal banquet hall of guests and court musicians to boogie-down in a rousing hip-hop rendition of 'Dance To the Music'.
Martin Lawrence's character Jamal's jive-talk (including some curse words) and modern-day mannerisms interacting with Chaucerian English via Shakespearean speech and attitudes, makes for consistently amusing and quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. The culture-clash also offers some opportunities for a bit of seriousness when Jamal must deal with scenes of an execution by beheading and of warfare characteristic of the period.
Despite its illogicalities and far-fetched premise, Black Knight succeeds in providing an amiably entertaining film to while away a couple of hours in between major blockbusters. With some pleasing settings, scenery, costumes, fine score ranging from classical to period to pop at appropriate moments and a bit of a rousing (but mostly blood-free) climactic battle scene, the movie offers enough visual dazzle to satisfy. Alas, a surprise, last-minute trick ending meant to be funny came across to me as tragically ironic and a mood spoiling let-down.
Nevertheless, for fans of medieval adventures, Black Knight deserves a look, especially for its African-American flavor and the gratification of seeing a Black man starring (comedic commerciality notwithstanding), in a heroic role.
© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu