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Gil Junger
Martin Lawrence, Tom Wilkinson, Marsha Thomason, Vincent Regan, Kevin Conway
Darryl Quarles, Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow

He's About To Get Medieval On You.
Box Office:
Budget $50 million.
Opening weekend $11.102 million on 2571 screens.
Domestic gross $33.414 million.
Rated PG-13 for language, sexual/crude humor and battle violence.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0 7Subtitles:
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 4/16/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Gil Junger
• Scene-Specific Audio Commentary With Actor Martin Lawrence
• Deleted Scenes With or Without Commentary From Director Gil Junger
• Outtakes
• Featurettes
• Storyboard to Film Comparisons
• Trailers


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Black Knight (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

The “fish out of water” theme goes back many years, and it shows no signs of depletion just yet. Based loosely on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, the concept gets another workout in 2001’s comedy Black Knight. While the Martin Lawrence vehicle offers little new or creative for the story, it has some decent moments that make it moderately entertaining.

At the start of the film, we meet Jamal “Sky” Walker (Lawrence), an employee of a Southern California theme park called Medieval World. When a new and very similar establishment named Castle World opens nearby, Jamal plans to jump ship, and he encourages his boss and Medieval World’s owner, Mrs. Bostick (Isabell Monk), to call it quits and sell the establishment, but she wants to maintain her community roots.

She puts him on moat-cleaning duty, and while he does this, Jamal discovers a potentially valuable necklace in the muck. As he tries to remove it, he falls into the water and magically goes back in time to the 14th century. There he meets Sir Knolte (Tom Wilkinson), a knight who fell upon hard times after the king got killed and the queen became removed from the throne. Knolte almost dies, but Jamal revives him, which puts the knight in our misplaced hero’s debt.

Remember that - it’ll pay off later! Anyway, Jamal doesn’t realize what’s occurred; he thinks he ended up on the Castle World property, so he plays along with these folks. When they believe him to be an emissary of the French government - he announces he’s from Florence and Normandie, which represents the intersection of his South Central LA home - he gets welcomed with open arms. Once inside the castle’s gates, he meets King Leo (Kevin Conway) and also encounters the one black woman in the realm: Victoria (Marsha Thomason). Naturally, he falls for her and spends much of the film trying to get into her knickers.

The rest of the time Jamal attempts to continue to the charade that he represents a French duke and he also deals with the cultural differences. This leads to scenes in which he confronts a nasty privy and he also teaches the medieval folk how to get down and boogie. He also unwittingly becomes attached to a rebellion. It seems King Leo took the throne by unsavory means, so Victoria and the others look to Jamal to help them restore the queen to her proper place.

By my reckoning, Martin Lawrence has appeared in one good movie: 1989’s Do the Right Thing. He played a very small part in that flick, though, so I guess he couldn’t ruin the movie. Otherwise, his career includes a string of dogs. Some made money - Bad Boys, Big Momma’s House - while others didn’t - What’s the Worst That Could Happen? All were pretty bad, though.

Black Knight does very little to break that streak. However, I must admit some of the early “fish out of water” scenes displayed some charm and humor. When Jamal thought he was in Castle World, some of Lawrence’s bits worked acceptably well. I can’t say I laughed much, but I enjoyed those parts.

However, everything before and after those brief moments seemed fairly lame. The movie barely bothered to set up the main character. We see he’s fastidious about personal hygiene and that he looks out for number one - and that’s it. Thwump - he’s zapped back to Ye Olden Days!

Character growth didn’t really improve once he gets there. It seemed inevitable that he’ll learn to care about others and become heroic, all with the prodding of lovely Victoria. Of course, this vague definition allowed plenty of time for Lawrence to ham. Essentially, his performance consisted of loosely-connected stand-up material. Lawrence didn’t even attempt to act most of the time, and he seemed disconnected from the rest of the cast and the plot. I don’t mean that in the “spaced out Martin running down the street” sense. Instead, he simply played the part in such a way that emphasized his own comedy without much attempt to synchronize with the rest of the film.

For die-hard Martin lovers, that’ll likely be enough. But the rest of us might like to see a real movie with a nicely developed lead character. Lawrence was such a hyper presence that he simply couldn’t pull off the more heroic side of Jamal, and the absence of development also meant that his growth never paid off effectively. We didn’t know him well enough to feel the impact or care about his self-improvement.

So Black Knight flopped in most regards. I still liked it more than the average Martin Lawrence effort; at least I found a few of its moments amusing, unlike his other flicks, which just left me totally cold. Nonetheless, it didn’t work well as a whole. It wasted some good talent - how’d they involve recent Oscar-nominee Tom Wilkinson in this clunker? - and failed to do anything new or particularly entertaining.

Note: Gil Junger spent much of his career in TV, and Black Knight was his second theatrical release as a director. The first? 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You, another tepid comedy based on a classic text. (In that case, it came from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.) My review of that movie has brought me more e-mail than all the others combined. God, I hope the same doesn’t happen for Knight. I’ve had teen fans of Hate on my back for two years now - I don’t need Martin Lawrence obsessives to take up their cause!

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B+ / Bonus B

Black Knight appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. All in all, the picture looked terrific, with very few concerns on display.

Sharpness appeared excellent. The movie consistently presented a nicely crisp and distinct presence, as I saw virtually no soft or fuzzy material. The film remained accurate from start to finish. Jagged edges and moiré effects seemed absent, and I also witnessed no signs of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, a speck or two popped up, but otherwise the film stayed clean and fresh at all times.

Knight featured a nicely naturalistic palette, and the DVD replicated those tones well. Colors looked clean and vibrant throughout the movie, and they showed fine vibrancy and accuracy without any noise, bleeding, or other issues. Black levels were deep and dark, while shadow detail came across as appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Overall, I found Black Knight to provide a very fine visual presentation.

The film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seemed almost as good as the picture. The soundfield focused mainly on the forward spectrum, but it opened up quite nicely at times. Within the forward domain, the mix provided a broad and engaging range of audio. Music offered very solid stereo imaging and presence, while effects appeared accurately placed and they blended together cleanly. Panning seemed natural and clear, and the forward spectrum came across as realistic and lively.

Much of the time the rear speakers mainly bolstered the front channels, especially in regard to the score. On other occasions, the surrounds added general ambience, and they came to life quite well during some of the more action-oriented bits. Split-surround usage could be solid, as elements such as arrows and horses moved neatly about the rear. The activity didn’t match action flick levels, but I felt it outdid the average comedy.

Audio quality also seemed very positive. Dialogue appeared natural and crisp, without any edginess or issues related to intelligibility. I heard a few awkwardly dubbed lines, but most of the speech integrated well. Effects sounded accurate and clear, with good fidelity and no signs of distortion. Music probably fared best of all, as the score seemed bright and dynamic throughout the movie. I was quite impressed with the reproduction of the music and with bass response as a whole; the mix displayed tight and rich low-end sound at all times. I went with a “B+” grade because I thought the track lacked the consistent sonic ambition to merit an “A-“, but it was a close call; I easily could have gone with the higher mark. Whatever the case may be, Black Knight offered a very strong soundtrack that impressed me much more than I expected.

This special edition release provides a slew of extras, and we start with an audio commentary from director Gil Junger. Overall, he offered a fairly decent track. On the negative side, Junger gushes too much, especially about the film’s lead actor. He goes on and on about how funny Lawrence was - it got a little nauseating at times. In addition, Junger appeared a little too in love with his own movie; that’s not a tone that works well.

Otherwise, however, Junger gave us some fairly interesting material. He rarely let up the chatty pace, and he contributed a variety of useful notes, mostly about the technical side of things. Junger really got into surprisingly compelling discussions of camera lenses and special effects, and since he comes from TV, he seemed genuinely enthralled with the topics; Junger appeared actively excited about the work done on the film. Ultimately, the commentary wasn’t great, but it came across as reasonably entertaining and fulfilling.

In addition, we find a scene-specific commentary from actor Martin Lawrence. He speaks during only two segments: “Meet Sir Knolte” - which runs five minutes, eight seconds - and “Saddle Sores” - which goes for two minutes, 54 seconds. The presentation shows the letterboxed film image, while Lawrence appears in a small video insert in the bottom right corner of the screen. For “Knolte”, he offers very little useful material; other than his indication that someone else crawled out of the lake, he gives us virtually no worthwhile information. During “Sores”, Lawrence provides some moderately interesting notes about working with a horse, but it also seems fairly bland.

The Outtakes feature 101 seconds of unused footage. Though not hilarious, this footage seems more entertaining than most of these sort of reels. The best segment comes last, when Lawrence insists on using his own line for one scene.

Next we discover two featurettes. A Timeless Friendship lasts eight minutes and 35 seconds, and it discusses the movie’s three main heroic characters: Jamal, Knolte, and Victoria. The program combines movie clips, a few shots from the set, and interviews with director Junger, executive producer Peaches Davis, producer Paul Schiff, and actors Lawrence, Tom Wilkinson, and Marsha Thomason. We learn a few decent notes about the participants and their interactions, and Lawrence launches a couple of funny lines, but for the most part, this show seems dull. It includes a lot of the usual praise for the different performers and appears short on compelling details.

Pratfalls & Parapets runs for six minutes and 40 seconds as it concentrates on the film’s stunts. It follows the same format as the prior featurette and provides interviews with Junger, Schiff, stunt coordinator Ernie Orsatti, and Lawrence. Though too brief to offer any depth, this show is much more entertaining than “Friendship. Mainly it covers stunts in regard to both work with the horses and the fight sequences. It includes some good little notes and merits a look.

The DVD includes two Storyboard to Scene Comparisons. We get “Rope-a-Dope” (three minutes, 38 seconds) and “The Coliseum” (59 seconds). These place the nearly square-shaped boards in the top part of the frame and the 2.35:1 movie runs in the bottom. Boards don’t do a lot for me, but these should interest fans of the form.

Construction gives us a four-minute and five-second featurette. While it includes a few movie snippets, it mainly focuses on material from the set and interviews. We hear from production designer Leslie Dilley and Junger as they discuss the various sets. Dilley offers the most information and even takes us on a tour of the village. It’s a very useful piece that provides some solid details,

Up next we find three deleted scenes. These last between 55 seconds and one minute, 55 seconds for a total of four minutes, 12 seconds of material. Though brief, each of these actually is pretty amusing and worth a look; one even includes a cameo from tennis pro Serena Williams.

The clips can be viewed with or without commentary from director Junger. He offers some interesting notes but doesn’t always explain why the material didn’t make the cut. Junger omits that information for the first snippet. Still, his remarks seem useful overall.

In Choreography, we get a three-minute featurette that concentrates on the banquet dance sequence. Similar to the earlier programs, it mainly mixes behind the scenes footage with interview tidbits from Junger and choreographer Paula Abdul. It’s a good little piece that gives us some informative details about that segment.

Lastly, the DVD includes some promotional materials. We find two theatrical trailers for Knight itself as well as additional clips. We also discover promos for upcoming theatrical releases Unfaithful and Minority Report.

Maybe someday someone will convince me that Martin Lawrence is a major comedic talent, but it won’t happen today. Actually, Black Knight seemed a little more amusing than the average Lawrence flick, but that remains faint praise. As a whole, the movie appeared stale and flat, and Lawrence provided an over-the-top presence that failed to mesh with the rest of the flick. The DVD offered solid picture and sound plus some reasonably good extras. Martin Lawrence fans should like this package, but others probably will want to skip it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1.8928 Stars Number of Votes: 28
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