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NORBIT There's a reason makeup artist Rick Baker has six Academy Awards on the mantle in his workshop, and it can be seen in his latest collaboration with Eddie Murphy. Baker, who earned one of his Oscars for his work on Murphy's The Nutty Professor, had a hand in the designs Murphy dons in this comedy, and as usual, his efforts elicit gasps of admiration. Also worthy of (guarded) praise is Murphy himself, who once again is able to create a deft comic persona. That would be the title character, a mild-mannered nerd who, after being raised by Asian restaurant owner Mr. Wong (also Murphy), ends up marrying a frightening, 300-pound behemoth named Rasputia (Murphy yet again). Like the geek Murphy played in Bowfinger, Norbit is a likable man whose rotten luck and sweet demeanor earn our sympathies. What doesn't engender audience goodwill is the rest of this picture, which, in addition to not being particularly funny, is petty and mean-spirited when it comes to any character not named Norbit or Kate (the willowy love interest played by Thandie Newton). Yet for all the stereotypes perpetrated by this film -- the black-hating Mr. Wong, a jive-talking huckster (who else but Cuba Gooding, Jr.?), a garish pimp (who else but Eddie Griffin?) -- the one most likely to offend is its centerpiece: Rasputia, an African-American caricature who's oversexed, overfed and in all other regards over the top. First, Martin Lawrence as Big Momma, then Tyler Perry as Madea, and now this? Enough already. **
OPENS FRIDAY, MARCH 2:
BLACK SNAKE MOAN: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Muhe.
WILD HOGS: John Travolta, Tim Allen.
ZODIAC: Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal.