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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.59%
Worth A Look: 4.11%
Average: 10.96%
Pretty Bad: 5.48%
Total Crap69.86%

4 reviews, 49 user ratings

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Black Knight
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by Jack Sommersby

"An Agreeable Martin Lawrence Star Vehicle"
3 stars

This fish-out-of-water story isn't anything particularly great, but it's colorful entertainment with plenty of bounce and heart. Martin Lawrence is terrific.

While Martin Lawrence may never be considered as anything other than a comic performer, rather than as a genuine comic actor, you've still got to hand it to the guy: he's both funny and ingratiating -- a welcome screen presence who manages to brighten up even the dreariest of scripts. Life paired him with Eddie Murphy, and the results were dire. Ted Demme's direction was leaden, the screenplay was uninteresting and overwritten, and even with Murphy occasionally contributing a nifty bit, it was Lawrence's keen alert reserve that gave it some much-needed energy. Big Momma's House was underwhelming, yet Lawrence enlivened it to a tolerable level. Even in last year's horrendous What's the Worst That Could Happen? there again was Lawrence elevating his scenes to a spirited level unworthy of the material. He lacks Richard Pryor's early edginess and Murphy's ability to play a dramatic scene without making the audience wince, yet he's infinitely more accomplished and controlled than motormouths Chris Rock and Chris Tucker. Still, Lawrence is a lightweight overall. Which can be seen as a negative in that he's never willing to stretch himself or give a hard, nasty edge to his work (his NC-17-rated concert film You So Crazy was certainly profane but far from profound), or a positive because he's aware of his limitations and wisely doesn't overstep his boundaries. I opt for the latter, because his work in Black Knight is typically wonderful: easygoing, audience-friendly, and devoid of smugness -- it's as comfortable and inviting as a well-worn pair of house slippers. So is the film.

Lawrence stars as Jamal Walker, a groundskeeper for a soon-to-open medieval theme park in Los Angeles. Jamal's a man of little ambition: he'll switch jobs even if there's no more than a five-cent-an-hour difference. Which isn't exactly unsound, but his lady superior has such high hopes for him, and she's saddened that he doesn't take greater pride in his work and apply himself. Well, on one particular morning for no discernible reason, when cleaning out a filthy make-believe moat, he falls into it and is suddenly transported to fourteenth-century England. Yep, this is another one of those fish-out-of-water stories where the hip and happening modern man wises up the clueless stiffs, demonstrating how much can be accomplished when one doesn't take life so seriously. Clad in green football jersey, jeans, and sneakers, Jamal...uh...stands out. Yet upon making his way to a nearby castle, which he presumes to be a mock-up belonging to a competing theme park, he isn't the least bit worried and demands to the guardsmen that he see their supervisor right away -- and nobody questions him about his wardrobe! I think it's here that the filmmakers make it clear they're not interested in complicating matters too much -- they simply want to get on with things without having to endlessly explain. (As was the case in 1993's excellent Groundhog Day, the reason for the time dislocation is never provided.) He's granted admittance under the pretense that he's a messenger from an ally kingdom. From here, Jamal's forced-upon reality gradually starts to sink in with him, and it's a kick watching this smartass wrangle his way out of numerous mishaps.

First, Jamal has to contend with the jolly but evil King Leo (the spirited stage and screen veteran Kevin Conway), and then his horny daughter, Princess Regina (a perky Jeanette Weegar), whom he lays instant claims on despite the apparent disapproval of the king's hostile henchman. Through a series of mishaps, including his accidental thwarting of an assassination attempt on the king's life, he's soon being treated like royalty, granted a seat at the king's table, and given his choosing of any number of the king's harem. Of course, most sane human beings would opt to depart the castle before being found out, but Jamal revels in this five-star treatment. His cover does get blown eventually, and he finds himself rescued from a beheading, and in the company of a resistance group determined to overthrow the king. The warriors, though, are in poor shape and low in morale, with matters not helped much by their washed-up and drunken leader, Sir Knolte (an amusing Tom Wilkinson of In the Bedroom), whose most demanding physical activity is the constant bending of his elbow. Jamal naturally wants out, and back into the modern ages. Yet he develops a newfound sense of honor, with the stark-raving beauty of a love interest, Victoria (the bland Marsha Thomason), motivating him even further. Of course, when he inevitably returns to L.A., he'll have become a more mature and caring human being. Any of this coming off as even the slightest bit familiar?

In most cases, there's nothing wrong with a formulaic comedy so long as the energy level is high and the spiritedness is hearty -- which, happily, is indeed the case with Black Knight. The cast and crew knew they weren't making King Lear or anything even remotely groundbreaking, and I can't really attest that the film is anything particularly praiseworthy, except to pay heed that it plays out as a bright collage of workable skits where even the gags that misfire don't embarrassingly thud or go splat. Director Gil Junger may not be the grandest shaper of individual sequences but is at least adept at wringing as much laughs from a given situation as possible. There's even the obligatory dance number where Jamal gets the castle's quartet and the king himself to loosen up and jam to Sly & the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music." What could have been strictly ho-hum is enlivened by the incorrigible bounce of Junger's staging; he knows exactly when to cut and who or what to immediately cut to without spoiling the rhythm by holding a shot so much as a second too long. (If anything, it at least plays out better than an old number from American Bandstand.)

Sometimes an actor is praised for being light on his feet. Well, the direction here is like that -- effortlessly going from one thing to the next without coming off as rushed or harried. Helping matters out further are the fantastic production designs by Leslie Dilley (Oscar winner for Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the candy-colored 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography by Austin Powers lenser Ueli Steiger; when we have interesting-looking sets to take in, even when the timing occasionally stalls and the jokes go from inspired to bathroom-related, we're consistently engaged by the backdrops of the action to bask in. And when you can only get so much mileage out of a city slicker flailing about trying to mount a horse ("The sixth time's the charm," quips Sir Knolte) and pop-culture references ("Let me see if I can give it the 'ol Al Sharpton") it's important that the story be treated with assured degrees of lightness and slightness which allow it to glide rather than solely exist on a matter-of-fact level. The director correctly treats everything like a put-on, never really committing to any of the story facets, opting to paint broad, vibrant storytelling strokes instead of focused, pastel ones. In essence, it's like someone telling a tired joke with verbal relish to make up for the familiarity, or, to cite a scene from Sweet November, an ad exec resorting to near-pornographic phallic imagery to generate excitement over a dull food product like hot dogs.

Black Knight is the kind of take-it-or-leave-it entertainment you can easily enjoy despite the fact that there's absolutely nothing at stake or of consequence in it. It's amiable and means well, and if you're not receptive to it then chances are likely the filmmakers wouldn't be in the least bit surprised. But for something so lacking in both imagination and ingenuity, it's awfully agreeable stuff, the kind that neither demands nor takes away, but simply serves up what it has to offer with a genial, unassuming hand. Two matters need addressing, though. First, Mr. Lawrence needed a more spirited romantic sidekick than Ms. Thomason, who scrunches her face up when trying to act tough, and whose every line reading rings completely false, like an unprepared (and untalented) understudy's. Emotionally and erotically, she's a zero. Second, the climactic action sequence, though well-choreographed, is too explicit in its detailing of death. The killings are bloodless and the corpses aren't lingered over, but they're still killings and these are still corpses, so the amiable tone gets jarred somewhat here -- you don't quite know how to respond to what you're watching (as you did to that blood-spurting, dismembered knight refusing to surrender in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the horrific and hysterical aspects were intelligently modulated and fused into a gag which became an instant classic).

I didn't mind sitting through Black Knight, even though I knew it wasn't exactly justifying ninety-five minutes of my time. There's still fun to be had in watching a quick-witted rascal like Martin Lawrence putting people down, acting all bug-eyed, and swooning over the ladies like the most charming lounge lizard ever to walk the planet. A superb dramatic actor like Tom Wilkinson cutting loose and displaying crack comic timing isn't such a bad thing either. And neither is something so presumably inane as Lawrence's character passing himself off as "Jamal Skywalker" (which wisely isn't pushed). If any other actor than Lawrence had taken center stage, the result would have probably been intolerable. A more ambitious one would have seen the supposed need to try to elevate the material to another level, when in fact it would be only him, not the material, blooming, and thus throwing everything else out of whack. Lawrence, however, never goes too far; he's extroverted and volatile, but not distractingly so -- he knows when to tone it down and allow his co-stars some breathing room of their own. Although I enjoy him more in buddy films like Bad Boys (with Will Smith) and Nothing to Lose (with Tim Robbins), the lone-star vehicle of Black Knight offers his engaging self up with pleasing results. Besides, how many films are you going to see which end with a nifty Gladiator gag and has its unarmed hero telling a powerful and ruthless king to "chill"?

Medicore material redeemed by Lawrence's undeniable charisma and some good individual sequences.

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originally posted: 12/21/02 02:37:45
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User Comments

4/18/07 Stevo UK look on the bright side.... laurence's carreer is almost over due to films like this. 1 stars
5/16/06 bmac who the hell is #23 5 stars
3/24/05 Alice Colwell total crap 1 stars
10/30/04 clint lewallen i liked black knight because i was there working on the the film 5 stars
9/21/04 Naka Nope! 1 stars
6/23/04 Freeman Funny when you are really bored ! 3 stars
5/05/04 yup i wasnt feelin the thunderbolts 5 stars
5/02/04 DM What the fuck were they thinking? Oh wait, they didn't. 1 stars
4/14/04 beem i kno it was weak as hell but i kinda liked it. i watch it over and over 5 stars
3/09/04 heather it sucked 1 stars
10/01/03 Samuel Justus Nowhere as good as Advertised! 3 stars
9/04/03 Gray this movie should be watched for the same reason we watch plan 9 from outer space 1 stars
8/29/03 Double G funny in some moments but mainly stupid 2 stars
5/21/03 Cardia It is good 1 stars
4/08/03 seminoles fan Martin is funny!! He can make movies & a great sitcom. Don't be fooled by 1 or 2 bad movies 4 stars
3/26/03 Ama Wilonson I TSUCKS 1 stars
2/21/03 Evil Bob All copies of this heathen shit should be burned, then beat yourself with a club for fun 1 stars
11/29/02 Goofy Maxwell Beware, this Medieval mayhem may brain thee (side effects may include idiotic laughter). 1 stars
8/17/02 Andrew Patrick This Is Absolute Crap,this is not the best comedy,THIS MOVIE SUCKS!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
7/29/02 Croweater This film ought to be taken to the Nevada Desert and buried in a very deep dark hole. 1 stars
5/25/02 Someone poke my eyes out with a corkscrew 1 stars
2/26/02 Butterbean Martin got the Cosby disease: Makes a great sitcom, but make shitty moviess 2 stars
2/06/02 April This movie licks Jeremy's asshole. It's that awful. 1 stars
1/01/02 nin Oscar. "Nuff said. 5 stars
1/01/02 Roy Smith Laziest film I've seen at year, Stephen Fetchit lives! 2 stars
12/21/01 Caiphn Could someone please shoot Jeremy in the head? 1 stars
12/21/01 captain chris why do you mock me? why do people pay martin lawrence to make movies? 1 stars
12/17/01 AK47 Strap Martin to a Tomahawk missile and send him to Tora Bora. Osama will beg to be shot. 1 stars
12/17/01 John Revolta I lovingly dedicate this rating of "Sucks All Ass" to Jeremy, Mudillia, and Pauline Kael. 1 stars
12/15/01 Mudillia Abuquaribi 2 things....You guys are all cum gargling faggots and two, Martin Lawrence is DA BOMB!! 4 stars
12/14/01 Melissa in NYC AND THE RASBERRY AWARD GOES TO!!! 1 stars
12/12/01 Captain Highcrime Time for Martin Lawrence to go jogging out in 95-degree heat again. 1 stars
12/04/01 DMF A few pretenses, but mostly slightly twisted fun. 4 stars
12/02/01 wagnaard I didnt need to see this abomination to know it sucked! 1 stars
12/01/01 Mr Math Just awful. The theater was silent throughout. Four people in front of me walked out. 1 stars
12/01/01 The Boy In The Designer Bubble Mommy, if I eat all my veggies, will you make that evil man stop making movies? PLEASE!!!! 1 stars
11/30/01 Banky Edwards Crap rating on principle alone... commercial was so lame I'm afraid of the movie! 1 stars
11/30/01 TimmyTomorrow Best movie about medieval times since medieval times. Worth the $9.00!!! 5 stars
11/30/01 Omniscient Genius 5 Black Holes. Two thumbs up ASS. Yech. 1 stars
11/28/01 Andrew It is not that bad, but it still -----------------------> 1 stars
11/28/01 Alex May I please have the money before you waste it on a film like this next time? 1 stars
11/27/01 JustAnotherMan stupid ass storyline; it not only sucks ass, it licks the ass crack 1 stars
11/26/01 Priscilla Mack see better 2 stars
11/26/01 Loopenark Should be treated as a crime scene or toxic waste dump site. 1 stars
11/25/01 Boomshanka Damn! That was one bad movie! At least it'll put an overdue cap in Lawrence's movie career. 1 stars
11/24/01 special K The commercials alone make me angry 1 stars
11/23/01 Boy In The Designer Bubble Step'N Fetchit would be proud!!! 1 stars
11/22/01 ender this movie gets a shitty rating on principle. 1 stars
11/22/01 steve goldenbaum Martin Lawrence, comic genius. 5 stars
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  21-Nov-2001 (PG-13)



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