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Black Knight (June 20/02)

In Black Knight, Martin Lawrence plays a contemporary laze-about transplanted to the 14th century via a magical medallion. It's a pretty out-there premise, but it does bring back that tried and true fish-out-of-water formula that's been conspicuously absent from theaters these last few years.

Jamal (Lawrence) works at a medieval theme park, content enough making little money in a dead-end job. One day, though, while cleaning the moat, he spots a piece of jewelry floating in the dank water. Assuming it's an antique worth some cash, he reaches for it - only to find himself sucked into the pond. Upon waking up, he doesn't recognize his surroundings but figures he must be near the interstate. After walking a few feet, he spots a huge fortress which he assumes to be the new theme park his boss told him about, Castle World. After a ridiculously long time (and being mistaken for a messenger from France), Jamal finally realizes that he's been transported back to the year 1392. He initially wants nothing more than to return to his own time, but eventually winds up a part of a rebellion - led, of course, by a beautiful woman he had his eye on.

The first 23 minutes of Black Knight (yes, I timed it) are easily the most effective, with Lawrence stumbling around medieval England under the assumption that he's still in the present. Sure, it's completely ludicrous but that's exactly what makes it so funny. For example, after he's initially refused entry into the castle, Jamal tells the guards that he's from Florence and Normandy (which is, to Jamal, the intersection near his home in South Central L.A.) Of course, the guards assume he's talking about Florence, Italy and Normandy, France and immediately grant him passage. That's funny stuff, but Black Knight allows Lawrence to learn the truth far sooner than he should have and the movie quickly becomes routine and mundane.

A good example of that is a sequence that finds Jamal attempting to teach the various musicians in the King's court to play a funky modern song. Though it's a humorous idea, the execution is all wrong and the sequence goes on much longer than it needs to. The same can be said of several other comedic set pieces, including a section later in the film that finds Lawrence teaching 14th century soldiers some decidedly 20th century fighting techniques. It's a reasonably funny idea ruined by overlength and sheer obviousness.

But the cast is certainly game, especially recent Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson (!) as a disgraced servant of the Queen. Lawrence, in particular, has an easy-going charm about him and unlike someone like Chris Rock, he's a decent enough actor. Unfortunately, charm alone isn't enough to keep the film going, but at least it's entertaining for the majority of it's running time.

out of

© David Nusair