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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10%
Worth A Look: 3.33%
Average: 10%
Pretty Bad: 26.67%
Total Crap50%

2 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Fat Albert
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by Peter Sobczynski

"I've seen 'Leonard Part 6' and this is no 'Leonard Part 6'"
2 stars

Throughout his long and wildly successful career, Bill Cosby has conquered nearly every area of entertainment that he has taken a crack at-on stage as a pioneering stand-up comedian, on record with a series of still-beloved albums, in print with several best-selling books and, most significantly, on television, where he shook up the medium no fewer than three times as the star of “I-Spy” (where he was one of the first black actors to get a serious starring role) and later as the creator of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” (which brought educational values to the wasteland of Saturday-morning televisions) and “The Cosby Show” (which helped revive the sitcom and pull NBC out of the ratings cellar). However, one area has constantly eluded him-the world of feature films. Cosby’s previous attempts to break through, best-forgotten efforts along the lines of “Ghost Dad”, have been enormous flops that did nothing for his reputation but prove that while he may be a genius, he certainly wasn’t infallible. Yet even those disasters pale in comparison to the woeful “Fat Albert”, the live-action adaptation of a property that has served him long and well on record and on television. What should have been a sure-fire success has somehow morphed into a film so astonishingly unappealing that it pales in comparison to the likes of “Leonard Part 6”.

When Cosby designed the “Fat Albert” TV show back in the 1970’s, it was an antidote to the mindless likes of “The Hair-Bear Bunch” and “The Groovie Goolies” in that it actually dealt with situations that many in the target audience might have encountered in the real world-poverty, crime and other social ills-in a way that was both thoughtful and entertaining without ever dumbing things down or sugarcoating them because they were aimed at kids. Of course, nothing truly awful ever happened and the episodes would always end with a laugh and a song, but there was a relevance to them that was a refreshing change of pace and, for better or for worse, they still hold up pretty well today both as social commentary and as entertainment. Considering the uproar that Cosby has been causing with his speeches commenting on the youth of today (somewhat tone-deaf but not entirely without merit), I guess that I just assumed that a new version of “Fat Albert” would fall along those lines in using that time-honored approach to deal with the problems facing kids today.

Instead, Cosby (as co-writer, executive producer and general whip-hand behind the project) has given us a concept for a “Fat Albert” movie exactly as puerile and insulting as the very things that the show was designed as an antidote to in the first place. In the real world, high-school girl Doris (Kyla Pratt) is upset because, get this, she isn’t as pretty or popular as foster sister Lauri (Dania Ramirez) and she doesn’t get specifically invited to a big upcoming party. She reacts to this in the way that all contemporary high-schoolers would-she runs home in the middle of school to watch a rerun of “Fat Albert”. (Okay, I suppose it is better than all that stuff we saw in “Thirteen”, but not very likely.) While crying (perhaps at the weak animation meant to represent the style of the old show), a tear hits the TV screen and somehow allows Fat Albert (Keenan Thompson) and the rest of the group-Rudy, Mushmouth, Bill, Bucky, Weird Harold and Dumb Donald-to jump out of the set into the real world to help Doris with her problems. (Sadly, little Russell gets left behind to fend for himself in the junkyard.) Although such a violation of the time-space continuum might shock and amaze most people, it hardly raises the eyebrows of Doris-all she can do is mope and feel sorry for herself. For some reason, though, Fat Albert decides that she is worth helping and tries to get her to feel better about herself and make her more popular.

If you think that is a shockingly empty-headed premise for such a film, that is nothing compared to its execution. There are the inevitable jokes where the gang tries to comprehend the real world around them (including a self-promoting bit where they try to understand what these DVD things are that they are appearing on), the equally inevitable jokes in which the worlds collide (Mushmouth suddenly becomes a well-spoken kid and Dumb Donald turns into a genius) and the kind of creaky conflicts that are impossible to care about (including a bad kid who wants to expose Fat Albert as...frankly, your guess is as good as mine). There are self-consciously “hip” updatings (including the inevitable rap version of the classic theme song) and meta-moments like a bit where Albert goes to meet his creator (Cosby looks incredibly ill-at-ease during his brief appearance) or the notion that by staying for too long in the real world, the gang runs the risk of fading away forever.

The most shocking thing about “Fat Albert” is not how unfunny it is (although when a film’s best line is “We’ll always have North Philly”, that is fairly evident) but how out-of-touch it reveals Cosby to be about the concerns of contemporary kids. No one cares about the conceit of the collision of the real world with the reel world-something done far more intelligently in such things as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Pleasantville”-and even if you strip away all of that, you are still left with the fact that Doris is a whiny, resolutely unpleasant character who simply doesn’t deserve the help of the gang. And even if you somehow find yourself accepting her and her problems, you can’t help but realize that the way that her problems get solved are fairly useless to most people with self-esteem problems-according to Cosby, it seems that the best way to overcome these problems is to win a track meet and have a foster sister so incredibly hot (and Ramirez looks enough like Eva Mendes to be a sister) that she inspires Fat Albert to stick around to finally save the day. Can Cosby seriously believe that this is an idea worthy of his most lasting creation?

There is exactly one nice moment to be had in all of “Fat Albert”-a brief reunion of the real-life people that inspired the gang in the first place gathered at the grave of the model for Albert. A smarter and better film might have used this notion as a launching point for a story, not as a last-ditch attempt to score a bit of emotion after 90 minutes of inanity. It is a lovely, haunting moment (especially when you see how closely the real people match up with their cartoon versions) and one trapped in a film that is utterly unworthy of it.

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originally posted: 12/25/04 08:45:47
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User Comments

3/27/14 Fat Albert Hey hey hey, that was NOT "ME" on that screen!!! I'm pleadin' the "5th!!!" 1 stars
5/11/08 drydock54321 going in & out of the "tv world" screwed it up. 2 stars
7/16/07 lillah.billy the movie is really good i watch it every day 5 stars
2/22/07 Trinity That movie was alright, but it was not all that good. 1 stars
12/05/06 Stanley Thai A good film for the family. It's underrated. 3 stars
4/03/06 JRE the show was 12 times better, and it sucked too 1 stars
12/24/05 S Gray Harmless 2 stars
9/15/05 Zaharin Bin Abdul Razak Well, I'm a kid stuck in an adults body so I loved it! The jump rope scene was cool! 4 stars
6/02/05 Fallon Te Paa GREAT!!! i can watch it over and over again!!!! 5 stars
5/26/05 tatum This was so bad, I couldn't bring myself to review it 1 stars
5/22/05 Jack Scallops Why did Fat Albert say i love you to Doris and not her sister? 3 stars
5/20/05 susan varney walked out 1 stars
5/15/05 Marcia Gay Soften Lamest flick since DROP DEAD FRED. Makes DUDE WHERE'S MY CAR look like Citizen Kane. 1 stars
4/09/05 Melissa B Perfect movie for parents who actually care what their children are viewing 5 stars
3/19/05 Mark McLeod hey hey it sucks 1 stars
12/29/04 Charles Thomas Bad Movie. 1 stars
12/26/04 Ray Holly crap 1 stars
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  25-Dec-2004 (PG)
  DVD: 22-Mar-2005



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