Fat Albert

The “Fat Albert” movie has carved out quite a dilemma for itself. The only people who might find it funny are under the age of 10 — but anyone that young won’t be familiar with the TV cartoon it’s based on and therefore won’t get all the jokes. So really, this movie is for people who are above the age of 30 but who have the sense of humor of a 6-year-old. If that describes you, then run, do not walk, to your nearest cinema and enjoy “Fat Albert”! And then please hurl yourself from the nearest bridge.

The “Fat Albert” cartoon was the brainchild of Bill Cosby, based on his own experiences as a poor kid in North Philadelphia. Cosby wrote the film with Charles Kipps, who has worked on some of Cosby’s less-distinguished TV shows (“The Cosby Mysteries,” “Little Bill”), and what they’ve come up with is among the two or three worst screenplays of the year. It’s an utter wreck of a film, completely laugh-free and mind-bogglingly misguided.

The story is about a Philadelphia teen named Doris (Kyla Pratt) who is unpopular at school for reasons the movie declines to tell us. One day she is watching the “Fat Albert” cartoon on TV — wait, maybe that’s why she’s unpopular — and crying about the fact that she has no friends, and her tears fall on the remote control and somehow that makes Fat Albert and his gang of problem-solving junkyard layabouts pop out of the TV and into Doris’ living room. Good thing she wasn’t watching “Crocodile Hunter.”

Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson), a polite, obese teen who says “Hey, hey, hey!” approximately 75,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times per day, is driven to help people solve their problems. He is obsessed with it, in fact, perhaps due to his own guilt over some long-ago transgression, perhaps something filthy and degrading, though I am only speculating. So though Doris insists her lack of friends is not a problem, Fat Albert and his pals — including the speech-impeded Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams), very tall Old Weird Harold (Aaron Frazier), bucktoothed Bucky (Alphonso McAuley), dumb Dumb Donald (Marques Houston) and two other kids who are boring — insist they will help her get some anyway.

The kids, being from a 1970s TV show, are baffled by 21st-century devices such as cell phones. The comedic device in which a person from the past is amazed by the present has already been used in approximately 90,000,000,000,000,000,000 other movies, but here it is again, as predictable as ever. One of the boring guys develops a crush on Doris, while Fat Albert himself has a thing for Doris’ hot foster sister Lauri (Dania Ramirez). Then they go to a party, where Fat Albert improvises a rap!!!!!!

What is laughable about the film is the attitude that the writers and the director, veteran TV director Joel Zwick, have toward it. They evidently think the audience is full of people who have vivid, fond memories of the “Fat Albert” TV series, because they have gone to great pains to re-create it faithfully. The characters in the film walk and pose oddly, apparently imitating their cartoon counterparts — which means the actors have watched the show recently, even if no one else on Earth has. To the casual viewer, it just looks like people walking and posing oddly, and it’s distracting, not funny.

You can tell the parts where they assumed you’d say, “Aw, I remember that! How nostalgic and amusing to see it enacted on the big screen!” But as I said, the only people who’d be able to tolerate the film’s simple-mindedness would be children, who of course have no knowledge of this alleged “Fat Albert” cartoon. (In the movie, kids on the street keep recognizing the in-the-flesh Fat Albert and his buddies from seeing them on TV, while their parents ignore them. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?)

I respect Cosby’s lifelong mission to provide wholesome entertainment for children and teach valuable lessons and whatnot, but good intentions are not an excuse for dull entertainment, just as a desire for simplicity is not an excuse for simple-mindedness. There’s “innocent,” and then there’s just “dumb.” “Fat Albert” fails in every possible way — fails to be funny, fails to be interesting, fails to speak to its potential audience. It is, as Mushmouth would say, a pebeece of crabap.

F (1 hr., 30 min.; PG, a "damn" or something.)

In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my Re-Views column at Film.com.