For many years, Black Knight has been looming over my Thanksgiving Eve for reasons discussed here but despite semi-annual threats to watch it this night I’ve only recently obtained the movie which makes this the first year I’m actually capable of delivering upon those threats. Threats which only truly center upon myself but which shall now take form as I finally do what I’ve said and watch Black Knight on Thanksgiving Eve.
Black Knight, for the uninitiated and those unwilling to click on the above link and scroll to the end of the article, is a 2001 Martin Lawrence comedy where he finds himself, a modern man, in medieval times and the movie takes this to odd extremes but we’ll discuss things later, for this is a movie review and the way I do movie reviews is to explain every thing that happens in the movie so there’s spoilers ahead for this eighteen-year-old movie that holds few surprises. Also, at least one of the images is gross.
The movie opens with Jamal Walker (Martin Lawrence) brushing his teeth and performing other hygiene duties while making exaggerated faces, but the movie is only an hour and a half so it has a lot of ground to cover and we quickly get Jamal to his job, which is an employee for a medieval theme park called Medieval World that’s being threatened by a newer medieval theme park called Castle World.
While Jamal’s boss is all set to fight them for business, he thinks that everyone should just cut their losses and jump ship. He intends to apply to Castle World early to beat the inevitable rush, but his plans are waylaid when he falls into Medieval World’s disgusting moat to get an expensive-looking medallion.
He wakes up elsewhere and since we know what this movie is about, elsewhen. Jamal doesn’t get this yet, but at least the movie didn’t waste any time in getting to its central conceit. The first person Jamal meets back in medieval times is Knolte of Marlborough (Tom Wilkinson), who is a filthy drunken hobo whom Jamal saves with breath spray. Look, he collapses, stops breathing, and Jamal refuses to give him CPR because of his rancid breath and so he uses the breath spray on him which jolts him awake. I’m not sure how it worked, but it did.
Knolte thanks Jamal and leads him back to his camp, and this provides an early indicator of this film’s humor. I hope you like Martin Lawrence making faces and trying to apply modern concepts to medieval England, because that’s like 96% of the movie’s “jokes” with a few percent also going to “Jamal and horse stuff” but we’ll get to that soon enough. Even though Knolte lives in pristine woods at the edge of a lake, Jamal still thinks he’s in 2001 Los Angeles and wanders off to find the highway.
Instead, he finds a small village where some knights almost run him down and it’s kind of his fault. They bear down on him from a good distance away and he doesn’t bother moving out of the way until the last moment, and then runs after them to give them a piece of his mind. He follows them to a castle he thinks is Castle World and enters when the guards mistake him for a messenger from Normandy due to the intersection by Jamal’s house. He enters the castle and after we’re briefly introduced to the concept of a Black Knight, we meet the film’s love interest. Victoria (Marsha Thomason).
The thing about Victoria is that they actually try to give her a character past “Jamal’s love interest” and for the most part, they succeed. She’s portrayed as being too intelligent for the time she lives in and later proves to be a prime mover of the plot. What’s more is that while Jamal does lust after her, he does eventually try to treat her like an actual human being and seems to want what’s best for her. It was unexpected to find something like that in a movie like this, in which Martin Lawrence fell into a moat and climbed out a lake and didn’t think anything was weird about that.
While Jamal is trying to get more information about Victoria, he sees the knight that almost ran him down and goes to have a talk with him. There’s immediate bad blood between Jamal and the knight, whose name is Lord Percival (Vincent Regan) but we don’t find this out until a bit later but I’m not going through all of this without referring to him by name. Oh, and he’s introduced getting all handsy with several background women in case it wasn’t clear he was the bad guy. Anyway, they have a bit of back-and-forth and then Jamal is summoned to see the king since he’s supposedly that messenger.
Jamal complies and is introduced to King Leo (Kevin Conway) and Princess Regina (Jeanette Weegar) and claims the Duke of Normandy will be there on Tuesday since he thinks they’re just auditioning him to be an employee of Castle World. King Leo declares that this pleases him and that Jamal should be plied with food, wine, and women. None of this raises any signals for Jamal, nor does the fact that they have a privy instead of an actual bathroom. No, what clues him in to the fact that something weird is going on is when he watches some guy get beheaded and discovers that the entire thing is completely real when he picks up the freshly severed head and faints dead away.
The reason the man was executed was because he was part of a rebellion against the king to restore the former queen, and I want to stress that the movie just showed us a man get beheaded. While we don’t actually see the ax go completely through his neck, the man is alive one moment and dead the next. This is the first clue for the audience that this movie, billed as a fun little romp where Martin Lawrence makes faces at the camera while knights and stuff experience his futuristic style, has a deadly serious plot running throughout it where a bunch of rebels are trying to murder the king. It’s actually something I had forgotten about in the years between seeing it for the first time and re-watching it.
Anyway, Jamal wakes up in the care of Victoria, from whom he learns that he’s in England in 1328. He wants directions back to the lake he crawled out of but Victoria tells him that the medallion he found is the symbol of the rebellion and that he could be of great help to them. He’s unwilling, as at this point he’s still selfish and all that, even when he looks outside and sees the heads on spikes. The only thing Jamal knows for certain at this point is that he’s in trouble, but he still goes out to ride with the king and seems about to break the news when all the king’s men assume very aggressive stances. He instead claims to be a jester as well as a messenger, and after an extended period of him having supposedly humorous troubles with a horse, he’s back with Victoria who is placing leeches on him. who has put leeches all over him. This is the second time I’ve seen leeches while writing something for this site in two weeks and I hope this thread doesn’t continue. Jamal is then invited to the king’s feast.
The feast is super gross and grows more loathsome when Jamal is forced to dance for the king and convinces the band to play “Ride Sally Ride” while he gets everyone else to dance. It’s the worst scene in the movie, but while all this supposed fun is happening the rebels are getting ready to straight-up stab the king to death. Princess Regina is also taking a liking to Jamal, and by that I mean she grabs him and they start making out in front of everyone who cares to look. This includes Percival, who decides this is a good reason to go take care of Jamal. Jamal runs away from him and winds up foiling the assassination attempt. This nets him a lordship, which he uses to try to introduce things like fast food restaurants and designer clothing to the court. This would have also been when we learn Lord Percival’s name, so you can see why I didn’t wait to share it with you.
There’s some more animosity between Jamal and Percival, after which they’re both called out to deal with a peasant who stole a single turnip from the king to feed his starving family. King Leo wants the man executed, which is the first thing we’ve seen that made him seem like a king worthy of getting deposed. Jamal also performs his first good deed by giving that same peasant a bag of gold and telling him to get out of town. Later that night, he has Victoria brought to his room under the guise of having sex with her but all he wants to do is talk to her about how crazy the king is and how much he wants to get back home because of it. Victoria leaves, but later that night a woman comes to Jamal’s room to have sex with him and just assumes it’s her.
It turns out that it’s actually the princess, and this is when we would have learned her name. Jamal’s actions means that the alliance King Leo sought with Normandy is now off the table, since the Duke of Normandy doesn’t want to wed a sullied woman. Oh, and the actual messenger arrived which means that this is a very bad day for Jamal, who gets locked up. The rebels who tried to stab the king earlier are actually amazed at Jamal’s supposed plan since if the alliance had gone through, there’s no way the rebels would have been able to defeat King Leo. Unfortunately, they’re all about to be executed but not before they remind us of the Black Knight legend that was touched upon earlier. He was basically a super-hero.
We’re spared another beheading (or three) when Jamal claims to be a sorcerer, though his first attempt doesn’t go over well since he pulls out a lighter and claims he can create fire but a peasant says they already have fire. I seem to remember this joke being in an episode of Darkwing Duck, too. The thing that initially saves them is when the executioner starts choking on a piece of melon which he got as a result of a joke from earlier. It was actually set up well and showed a decent amount of care. Anyway, he chokes on the melon and the peasants assume it’s a death spell. Jamal saves the executioner with the Heimlich maneuver, and things were stalled enough for actual help to arrive. Flaming arrows start falling from the sky, with one hitting a guy and killing him. This is enough of a distraction for Victoria to ride up in a coach to rescue Jamal and the two rebels, though Jamal has trouble staying on moving objects and falls off immediately. He’s saved by Knolte, who has cleaned up significantly. Oh, also a dude got knifed.
After a rather romantically charged scene of Knolte and Jamal riding through the woods. We learn that Knolte was a knight before he was tricked by Percival which resulted in the queen being deposed, and then they arrive at the rebel camp. Victoria is unhappy because people aren’t listening to her about moving the camp, and also because Jamal banged Princess Regina. He tries to make her understand, but then tries to get her to agree to leave the rebels behind and go back to Los Angeles with him. Instead, she just gives him directions back to his precious lake and he skedaddles despite the fact that he has absolutely no clue if this lake will work and no plan about what to do if it doesn’t.
Jamal reaches the lake and tries to convince him that this isn’t his fight and that going home is the best option, and I’d have to agree with him. He doesn’t belong here and has actually been a detriment to the rebellion so his departure wouldn’t be that felt by anyone at this point. Instead, he finds Knolte fighting some bandits and Jamal reveals that he’s a decent boxer. The bandits are taken care of while Jamal and Knolte return to the camp, except it’s gone because Percival found and attacked it. Everyone who wasn’t gone is either dead or captured, and the latter includes Victoria. Things seem quite grim until the queen (Helen Carey) reveals herself and, between her and Jamal, the troops are rallied. There’s a training montage and Jamal finally seems ready to fully embrace not being a selfish jerk while also taking full control of his creative problem-solving.
The rebel troops attack a seemingly empty castle, but it was all a trap and Percival and so many troops surround the rebels. Things seem grim until the Black Knight arrives on the scene, and his very presence terrifies Percival’s men while steeling the rebel’s resolve. Things are going well until the Black Knight hits his head on a beam and falls off his horse, revealing that he was Jamal the whole time. It doesn’t matter as the battle has already turned, and Percival knows it. He sees all the people getting stabbed to death and shot with arrows.
Instead of running, Percival decides to first kill the king by chucking him into the moat from the battlements (which means that the rebels win, right?) and then shoot Knolte with an arrow. As if this wasn’t enough, he also brings out Victoria to goad Jamal into a battle. The two fight, with Jamal using modern sports techniques against Percival quite effectively, only letting up when it seems Percival is down for the count. He’s not, but it’s okay because Knolte has yanked the arrow out of his body and shot Percival with it, killing him and winning it for the rebels.
With the Queen restored (we never learn her name and the credits just list her as the Queen) there’s no reason for Jamal to stick around except for the friends he’s made and all that. There’s also no reason for Victoria to stay, either, and the pair prepare to depart while saying their farewells to the Queen and Knolte.
Except it would seem that this was all a dream, as Jamal wakes up back at Medieval World after being underwater for ten minutes. While his co-worker suggests he sue and his boss is sure that’s what’s going to happen, Jamal has grown as a person and declares doing so has no honor. Instead, he fulfills his potential by helping Medieval World become a welcoming successful place. For his efforts, he’s rewarded by meeting another version of Victoria. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get her number and when he runs to her in order to get it, he falls back into the moat and wakes up in Ancient Rome.
That ending derails the entire rest of the movie, though that might be intentional. For example, was Jamal really in medieval times or was it an extended scenario dreamt up by his subconsciousness to make him less of a jerk? It’s something that could have added a layer or two to the movie, but then we have him falling into Ancient Rome for no other reason than a cheap laugh.
This is a weird movie, but I don’t know if I’d say it was a bad one. It’s a solid story, decent characters, and even has satisfying character arcs. The issue is that the entire thing seems like someone wrote most of a medieval drama, couldn’t finish it, and then the studio handed it off to someone who decided the best course of action would be to not only let Martin Lawrence be in it, but to have him just make faces for most of it while doing the same joke over and over for the rest of it. Which is a shame, because he’s actually good in this when he isn’t trying to be overly comedic and there are a few jokes that land really well. It’s just the tonal shift between this plot of assassination and the “comedy” makes it all weird to watch. Yet now I can, every Thanksgiving Eve, and each time I shall grow to love or hate it more. Lucky me. I have so much to be thankful for now.
Hey, who’s ready for me to revive something I was doing when this movie came out? That’s right, it’s time for the Milk and Cheese Truth! Except different. Treat it as the TLDR of this whole endeavor. Milk would be positive things about this movie, Cheese would be negative things about this movie, and then the truth would be… I don’t know. Final thoughts and a grade.
THE MILK: A surprisingly decent tale of medieval intrigue with characters that are slightly more than two-dimensional with satisfying arcs for the three leads. The setting is also quite nice to look at.
THE CHEESE: Martin Lawrence’s style of humor in this movie, and the movie’s humor in general, is certainly not for everyone and often clashes with the movie’s tone. Also, that ending thing in Ancient Rome is weird.
THE TRUTH: A decent enough way to waste a Thanksgiving Eve, as long as you ignore the ending scene. I’ll give it two and half helpings of milk and cheese.