Big Love: Norbit is more than Eddie Murphy in a fat suit.

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Eddie Murphy’s most impressive metamorphosis in 2007 may have been into an Oscar nominee, but Rasputia is a close second. Murphy plays both the title character and his enormous wife in Norbit, a comedy that’s surprisingly sweet and not quite as broad as the woman referred to as an “Escalade in a wedding dress” on her big day. Rasputia, the orphaned, nerdy Norbit’s childhood bodyguard/girlfriend who grew, significantly, to become his steady, is the movie’s main sight gag. But if Norbit had only one joke, it’s a pretty good one: Murphy, unrecognizable in an over-the-top but well-seamed fat suit, purses ballooned lips, talks in a high, haggard voice, and, in a repeated but consistently funny bit, squeezes into the driver’s seat of a car so tightly that his fake boobs honk the horn. But there’s more to Norbit than Rasputia breaking beds and frightening children. (“Don’t think I won’t kill a child!” she warns the tykes who play keep-away with her hat at a picnic.) There’s the pug dog she injures that has to walk around with two big wheels to help its back legsÔªø. Or Mr. Wong, Murphy’s Asian alter ego, who doesn’t win points with Rasputia’s family when he calls her a gorilla. (OK, it’s actually “gorirra.”) And, yes, there is a plot: Norbit, still a dorky doormat as an adult, finally becomes fed up with his well-fed wife when she cheats on him with her Prince-like exercise instructor (Marlon Wayans). Adding to his confidence, his true childhood love, another orphan named Kate (Thandie Newton), comes back to town and invites Norbit to lunch—although this is where he meets Kate’s shady fiancé, Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Kate plans to take over Mr. Wong’s Golden Wonton Restaurant and Orphanage, where she and Norbit grew up, while Deion makes a deal with Rasputia’s brothers (Terry Crews, Clifton Powell, and Lester “Rasta” Speight) to turn the property into a strip club. Using a story by Murphy and his brother, Charles, co-writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn (who both scripted Guess Who) largely keep the love rectangle wholesome—excepting shots of Rasputia’s gigantic ass—and focus on storytelling rather than outrageousness. The laughs aren’t always gut-splitting, but the filmmakers win major points for slipping in subtle or plain ol’ silly jokes instead of relying solely on toilet humor. Literally and figuratively, this is Murphy’s big year.