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   BLACK KNIGHT

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Martin Lawrence, Tom Wilkinson, Marsha Thomason
Director:  Gil Junger
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  95 Minutes
Release Date:  April 16, 2002

“What the hell is that??”

“Tis food.”

“Tis ROADKILL!”

Film **

Martin Lawrence is a funny comedian, but I have yet to see any evidence that he’s capable of carrying a film by himself.  When paired with another star, like Will Smith in Bad Boys, he seems in fine form.  Going alone, his shtick only carries so far, despite an obvious eagerness to please.

In Black Knight, what we have is a one-joke premise that wears razor thin, and absolutely nothing we haven’t seen before.  Lawrence plays Jamal “Sky” Walker, a modern day amusement park employee who gets sucked back into the Middle Ages for some fish-out-of-water mayhem.

I’ll say this for the film…it doesn’t take long to get Jamal back in time and our story started…maybe ten minutes.  As such, we don’t get to know Jamal very well, nor does Lawrence seem to find his footing right away.  Instead, we get an opening credit sequence where he mugs mercilessly at the camera while grooming himself.

Once back in time, neither Jamal nor the residents of the era know what to think of each other.  But he makes two good acquaintances:  Knolte (recent Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson), a disgraced former knight, and the lovely Victoria (Thomason), a chambermaid who is secretly part of a rebellion to lead their deposed queen back into power against an usurping tyrant.

Jamal is, of course, in over his head, but he tries to make do with the situation while trying to make time with Victoria.  Do you get the feeling that by the time the story is nearing the end that Jamal will have found it in himself to be the hero he never thought he could be?  One guess.  Yes,  “Sky” Walker will be leading the rebellion.  

I won’t call Black Knight a bad movie, but it certainly isn’t any Connecticut Yankee, or Army of Darkness for that matter…two similar stories with a lot more to offer.  Lawrence is likable but unable to elevate the material with his humor and charm.  Obligatory scenes like Jamal trying to use 21st century know-how to appear as sorcery to the primitive people of the time fall surprisingly short.  Apparently, no one in the Middle Ages ever choked on their food before.

The film is a palatable 90 minute diversion with a handful of laughs and even more smiles…just don’t be surprised if you don’t give it another thought once the credits roll.

Video ***1/2

This is a quality anamorphic offering from Fox, which brings the ancient world to vibrant life before our eyes.  The film lacks the production value of better period films, but no matter…what is there is offered with terrific, natural looking colors and grain-free, detailed images unmarred by any compression blemishes.  Both brightly lit and darker sequences render with integrity, save for an occasional bit of softness in the darkest scenes.  Overall, another top notch video presentation from Fox.

Audio ***1/2

With horses and swordplay afoot, you’d expect a quality 5.1 offering for Black Knight, and you get it.  This is a lively, full mix, with plenty of dynamic range from both the action and the score.  Front and rear stages blend to create smooth and involving battle scenes that keep you in the midst of the action, with the .1 channel offering the galloping horses and other sequences the extra bottom-end punch they require.  A very good effort.

Features ****

The extras package is good, starting with a formidable commentary track by director Gil Junger.  He’s a good speaker who offers his thoughts with modesty and detail, and nothing but praise for his actors and crew members.  You get the feeling he knew he wasn’t making Beckett, but seemed perfectly okay with that.  There are also two short scene specific commentaries from Martin Lawrence, which are nice additions.  Production featurettes include a promotional one with Lawrence, Junger, Wilkinson, Thomason and others giving interviews, plus short ones on the stunts and the choreography (with Paul Abdul).  There is also a brief outtake reel, some trailers, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and some storyboard to scene comparisons. 

Summary:

Black Knight is a mediocre attempt at a comedy…not the worst you could do by far, but maybe a bit underachieving in its single-note premise, lack of original ideas, and funny star who gives it his all but can’t make the material anything other than what it is.  It’s still a quality DVD offering from Fox, and that alone might make it worth your time.