We gave it a C+
Black Knight, Martin Lawrence’s new joke assembly line, takes off from a concept that might have nicely served Bob Hope in the ’40s or Richard Pryor in the ’70s. Lawrence, with his trademark jug-eared incredulity, plays a sneaky underachiever named Jamal Walker—a minimum-wage joker from Los Angeles who toils away in a medieval theme park. Attempting to retrieve a shiny medallion, he falls into a dirty moat and gets transported to a castle in the English countryside in the year 1328. Jamal, in his green football jersey, is the sort of guy who wishes that life could be a quivering-booty hip-hop video; he’s a bling-bling wannabe trapped in Dark Ages squalor. Early on, there are some good gags, as our hero endures close encounters with a hole-in-the-floor castle toilet, a forest bum who roasts what looks like rodent-on-a-stick, and, finally, a real live beheading that awakens Jamal to the prospect that no, he’s not in South Central anymore.
Then comes a showpiece scene that should, by all rights, have been one of the movie’s highlights. Jamal, posing as a messenger from Normandy, is ordered by the king to perform a solo dance for the court. Lawrence offers up a few desperate, prancing moves, but just as the scene is building (can you imagine the madness Jim Carrey might have made of it?), he heads over to the dolcian-and-lute ensemble and offers the players a few hasty tips. Soon, they’re laying down the funk groove of Sly & the Family Stone’s ”Dance to the Music,” and the entire court is boogying in the aisles. Big laugh! But is it? In Black Knight, Martin Lawrence defeats—and converts —the medieval world before it even has a chance to inspire a fresh comic reaction out of him. The culture of the Middle Ages is set up as a geohistorical straight man, yet every gag winds itself so completely around Lawrence’s idiom and personality that the universe of swords, damsels, and dung just turns into a foldout backdrop for his latest wallow in attitude.
Monty Python and the Holy Martin, in other words, this ain’t. That said, there are moments when Black Knight does recall the amusing incongruities of Terry Gilliam’s first solo directorial venture, the 1977 medieval grungefest Jabberwocky. Jamal introduces a 14th-century fighter to the rope-a-dope, and he’s paired with a royal concubine (Marsha Thomason) whom he tries to convert to the way of thongs and mai tais. Lawrence, as always, exerts the appeal of a con man too lightweight to buy into his own con. He’d be funnier, though, if he didn’t insist on being the only funny thing in the room.