It’s not quite A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. It’s more like Jivin’ Jamal Goes Low-Brow Medieval. Jamal (Martin Lawrence, What’s The Worst That Could Happen?)is a self-absorbed no-achiever who rightfully insists that people shouldn’t have high hopes for him. One day while at work at the down-in-the-moat Medieval World amusement park in Los Angeles, Jamal reaches for a medallion glinting in the fetid water, falls in, and is transported to 14th century England — 1328 A.D. to be exact. He figures he somehow landed across town at the Castle World entertainment center and is greatly impressed with the new park’s attention to detail. It takes the beheading of a hapless serf for him to realize that all the strange sights, odiferous smells and spilled blood are real. He’s now more than 600 years in the past, in a world with no private lavatories where a whole family can be executed just because Dad stole a turnip. Oh yes, did I mention that this is a very white world? By default, Jamal becomes “The Moor” and pretends to be the messenger for the Duke of Normandy, who is supposed to be coming to claim the hand of the horny young princess Regina (Jeanette Weegar). The only other person of color in the whole country is the lovely Nubian chambermaid Victoria (played by TV actress Marsha Thomason, who just happened to be born in this lifetime in Manchester, England, so she already has the accent and the elegant bearing down pat). The medallion proves to Victoria that Jamal is destined to join her and the other rebels in their struggle to kill the evil king and return the throne to the rightful heir, their beloved queen. “It’s not my fight!” Jamal keeps saying, but since he can’t escape, he might as well do something heroic and impress Victoria. In the meantime, Jamal has befriended a depressed, homeless knight, Sir Knolte (Tom Wilkinson, The Patriot) and convinced him to throw away his flask. Is it possible Jamal is really the Black Knight, the legendary hero the people are praying will return to save them? Can he teach the ladies and gentlemen of the court to dance properly? Can he avoid getting beheaded when he lands in prison with the other rebels? More importantly, can Jamal actually stay on a horse long enough to ride into the castle? I admit, the whole thing sounds pretty stupid and, indeed ,Black Knight has received a king’s share of rotten-tomato reviews. But the Friday night audience and I found Black Knight full of laughs; in fact, sometimes it was downright hilarious. The script was excellent, twisting the cliches in each scene time after time — a difficult task in any comedy, especially in one that covers familiar territory. Martin Lawrence is one of the country’s top physical comedians and director Gil Unger wisely choreographed the action to allow him to get splattered, punched, half-drowned, dragged, caged and laid before returning him to the 21st century. It’s all quite forgettable, but mindlessly enjoyable while you’re watching it.
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