The self-regard it took for Martin Lawrence to star in "Black Knight" must be astounding. Consider the opening: a mirror-point-of-view shot of him brushing and flossing his teeth, plucking his nose hairs and swabbing his ears -- all while he mugs without restraint.

Now, most people might think, "Who would want to watch a close-up of me making faces while I stick a tweezers up my nose?" But Lawrence betrays no such doubts; he's apparently convinced that the mere force of his personality transforms even the most mundane activities into downright hilarious high jinks.

That kind of confidence can be helpful in getting a project off the ground because then you don't have to worry about such nettlesome details as a funny script or comedically talented co-workers. In fact, Chris Tucker and "Friday" director F. Gary Gray originally were attached to "Black Knight" but dropped out because of reported script problems.

Whatever those problems were, they haven't been fixed, but no matter. Just picture Lawrence as a modern guy plopped into 1328 England. Now picture him having to go to the bathroom and entering a medieval privy.

Oooooh, smelly! Look at him wince and grimace! What a laff riot!

The easy-to-sell concept — which is the only reason such stupid movies get made — is "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" with a black guy, Lawrence, although the king here is a diminutive tyrant named Leo (Kevin Conway).

Lawrence's Jamal Walker is a menial worker for a medieval theme park who falls into a filthy moat and comes out in the Middle Ages. (Hate it when that happens. . . .) Although he surfaces in a lake and steps out into a forest, Jamal seems to have no inkling that something strange is going on.

He assumes that a drunken knight on horseback, Sir Knolte (Tom Wilkinson), is just a theme-park worker, and when the knight collapses and stops breathing, Jamal makes all sorts of pained faces at the prospect of giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before finally yelling, "911! White man down! White man down!"

Granted, this movie is not designed for any level of scrutiny, but let's ponder this line. He's shouting into an expanse of trees, so he's not really expecting help.

His only audience is the audience; it's a listen-to-me-I'm-funny line, and it's a clunker anyway.

I mean, a grubby medieval knight has just fallen at his feet in a mysterious forest, and his immediate response is to crack wise about urban police forces' reputation of responding faster to white victims than black ones?

The movie's title also refers to race, but this area goes almost completely unexplored. The hot maiden — every knight movie's got to have a hot maiden — is a light-skinned black woman, Victoria (Marsha Thomason), and the rest of the kingdom's white inhabitants never seem to register that Jamal, in his football jersey top and sneakers, looks out of place.

This is paint-by-numbers filmmaking, from the stock characters (the glowering, goateed evil knight; the fair, exiled queen; the trusty sidekick) to the gratuitous bathroom humor to ancient characters learning words like "chillin'."

The script is credited to Darryl J. Quarles ("Big Momma's House") and Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow ("Say It Isn't So"), whose track records suggest the hackwork on display here.

But in the end everything comes down to Lawrence, who has yet to develop a truly distinct comedic sensibility. Certainly no one else is given anything funny to say or do. Even so, only two comic bits work in the entire movie: Jamal being introduced to the king as if he were entering a basketball game and Jamal's leading the court band in a corny but lively version of Sly & the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music."

At one point Jamal claims to be a jester to cover for his inability to stay on a horse. After watching him get bounced around repeatedly, King Leo finally observes, "He's no longer funny, but he refuses to give up on the joke."

Leo, you may be a lousy king, but you'd make a fine critic.

1 star

"Black Knight"