"Black Knight" is a rip-roaring time-travel comedy tailored beautifully to Martin Lawrence's protean talent. It has more hilarious throwaway lines than most comedies offer up as their best jokes, and it is consistently inspired, energetic and, most important, light on its feet. What's more, it combines broad humor with sophisticated references and authenticity of settings. Lawrence, director Gil Junger and writers Darryl J. Quarles, Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow have taken pains to make everything look easy.
Lawrence's Jamal Walker is lots more concerned with his appearance than with his maintenance job at Medieval World, a venerable theme park about to get some serious competition from Castle World, a far more elaborate enterprise going up nearby. Jamal's staunch employer (Isabell Monk), who takes pride in having supplied jobs and family recreation in her community for 27 years, is disappointed in him when he advises her to sell out and retire comfortably in Miami instead of taking on the competition. It's not giving away too much away to reveal that Jamal returns from his time-travel adventure with a significantly changed attitude. Jamal's jolting journey to 1328 occurs when he reaches down to pick up an ancient-looking golden amulet gleaming through the murky waters of Medieval World's moat. He gets sucked into a vortex and finds himself emerging in a lake in the beautiful English countryside. Jamal is in such an understandable state of shock that he thinks that somehow he got knocked out and has awakened in Castle World.
Consequently, when he first encounters Knolte (Tom Wilkinson), a gallant knight on the skids, he thinks he ought to try AA and tells him all the tricks in qualifying for food stamps. Knolte is a former key aide to the Queen (Helen Carey), who has been deposed by the hearty despot Leo (Kevin Conway), who, in time-honored fashion, is starving the peasants.
In short, the filmmakers have carefully set up their comic premise of a fast-thinking, resourceful young African American contributing his street smarts to those trying to overthrow Leo and restore the Queen to her throne. When Jamal makes his way to Leo's castle and is asked where he comes from, he replies "4th and Normandie in South-Central." Leo assumes he's a Moor acting as an emissary for a duke in Normandy due shortly to be married off to his daughter, the lusty Princess Regina (Jeannette Weegar).
Sizing up his precarious situation, Jamal shrewdly presents himself as a court jester, and is soon leading Leo and his courtiers in a rousing singing-and-dancing rendition, choreographed by Paula Abdul, of Sly & the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music," the first of the film's numerous funny and lively set-pieces. Jamal is quick to size up the true state of affairs in a far-from-merry Old England; from the start, however, he has a wary nemesis in Percival (Vincent Regan), Leo's ruthless chief of security, who is determined to undermine Jamal's raucously infectious rock 'n' rumble routine.
Among Leo's many chambermaids is the lovely Victoria (Marsha Thomason), a Nubian beauty surely of noble lineage. Jamal, who notices that Vicky is wearing an amulet like his, is swiftly caught up in both romance and rebellion.
The essence of Lawrence's comedy is in embracing black stereotypes affectionately only to explode them to reveal their inner strengths. In its joyous, uninhibited way, "Black Knight" celebrates the survivor and the myriad underdog strategies needed to ward off oppressors and ultimately to prevail. That's a pretty good sentiment for these days and this season.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for language, sexual, crude humor and battle violence. Times guidelines: The film is mildly raunchy and the violence standard for the medieval genre.
Martin Lawrence...Jamal Walker
Jeannette Weegar...Princess Regina
A 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprise presentation of a New Regency/Runteldat Entertainment/The Film production. Director Gil Junger. Producers Arnon Milchan, Darryl J. Quarles, Michael Green, Paul Schifff. Executive producers Martin Lawrence, Jeffrey Kwatinez, Peaches Davis, Jack Brodsky. Screenplay by Darryl J. Quarles and Peter Gaulke & Gerry Swallow. Cinematographer Ueli Steiger. Editor Michael R. Miller. Music Randy Edelman. Choreographer Paula Abdul. Costumes Marie France. Production designer Leslie Dilley. Art director Stephen Cooper. Set designers John Jeffries, Geoffrey S. Grimsman, Michael Ward. Set decorator Peg Cummings. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times