A movie year already filled with disturbing images–from Ashton Kutcher narrowly dodging a romantic relationship with a burly prisoner in The Butterfly Effect to Halle Berry manically gobbling sushi in Catwomanhas saved one of the least comfortable spectacles for its final week. Early in Fat Albert, a live-action update of Bill Cosby's classic socially conscious '70s cartoon series, Fat Albert and his cartoon pals stop cold in the middle of an adventure. Peering out into the real world, they see an upset teenager (Kyla Pratt) whose tears have fallen on a TV remote, tearing a hole in the fabric of Albert's reality. With much difficulty, thanks to his girth, Albert slowly emerges into the real world in the form of Kenan Thompson, a big man in an even bigger fat-suit. It's supposed to be funny, apparently, but it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to watching a difficult childbirth, and a mere stream of amniotic fluid would make it look like a scene cut from Videodrome.
Thompson's thinner friends emerge with less difficulty, but they probably should have stayed put. While endearing as cartoons, they don't wear flesh well. With his high fade haircut and protruding teeth, Bucky (played here by Alphonso McAuley) appears to be suffering from microcephaly, and the less said of Mushmouth (Jermaine Williams), the better. And what exactly are they doing in the real world? (Or, rather, in the half-heartedly rendered North Philly back lot that passes as the real world?) The film doesn't quite seem to know. Co-written by Cosby and Cosby Mysteries vet Charles Kipps, and directed by My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Joel Zwick, Fat Albert throws in a few Brady Bunch Movie-style gags about the contrast between the original show's world and contemporary culture, but mostly, it just ambles around aimlessly. The Cosby Kids express shock over the nasty language of today's music (à la Cosby himself), and there's a whiff of a clever idea behind Thompson's compulsive need to find problems and solve them, but it mostly seems like Cosby got the notion to make a Fat Albert movie, and didn't think much beyond that.
It's not enough. Thompson does an uncannily good Fat Albert impression, but he gets no chance to be the loose, engaging performer he proved to be on Saturday Night Live. Like all Cosby projects, Fat Albert has its heart in the right place, and the kind spirit and good intentions carry it for a while, but the misbegotten film skips from one awkward moment to another. A sequence in which Thompson raps, for instance, probably doesn't last for an hour, but it feels like it does. When the characters return to their TV home at the urging of their real-world friends, it feels like the film is finally acknowledging that it has no reason to exist.