Martin Lawrence takes urban swagger back to medieval times in "Black Knight," and the results are uneven at best. The movie is at its most entertaining when the former stand-up comic does his shtick, using fast talk and funny moves to navigate sticky situations. But when the mugging stops, the picture sags.
The story hinges on a familiar, stranger-in-a-strange-land dilemma. What happens when Jamal Walker (Lawrence), a flashy but unambitious worker at a decrepit South Central Los Angeles theme park named Medieval World, is accidentally transported to the early 14th century?
Here's what: Romance brews. A hero is born. Lessons are learned by both the visitor and his newfound friends. Wake us when the fun starts.
Director Gil Junger, who borrowed from Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" for 1999's "10 Things I Hate About You," demonstrates even less inspiration with this sort-of-adaptation of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." He opens with a close-up of the funnyman in his bathroom, putting himself through an intense primping session of brushing, flossing and gargling like a madman. Cute, yes, and the facial contortions make us giggle, but this sequence might easily have been lifted from the cutting-room floor of "Martin," Lawrence's now-defunct Fox-TV series.
Who allowed a bit as disposable as this one to open the movie? A quick check of the credits hints at the answer. Lawrence himself is listed as an executive producer.
Throughout the film, Junger simply drops his star into a variety of situations and lets him loose, hoping he gets the same results as, say, Eddie Murphy or Robin Williams. Watch Jamal -- who is treated as an important Moor visitor by the king (Kevin Conway) -- narrowly escape the guillotine, accidentally thwart an assassination, and bond with a good knight (Tom Wilkinson) who has been driven to drink. Our hero also dukes it out with an evil royal (Vincent Regan), falls for a rebellious lady in waiting (Marsha Thomason) and falls even harder off a horse, in a bit of business that persists long after the laughs have stopped. Lawrence also tosses in contemporary references to Rodney King, Al Sharpton and Puff Daddy -- excuse us, P. Diddy.
Junger has simply overestimated his star's ability to compensate for "Black Knight's" overall failings. Hi-jinks of this sort were only slightly amusing when Bing Crosby took the time-travel trip in 1949's "Connecticut Yankee" adaptation, and Lawrence, as eager as he is to be liked, can't be expected to make much more of the journey.