Nutty Professor II: The Klumps
Screenplay : Barry W. Blaustein & David Sheffield and Paul Weitz & Chris Weitz (story by Steve Oedekerk and Barry W. Blaustein & David Sheffield)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Eddie Murphy (Prof. Sherman Klump / Buddy Love / Papa Klump / Mama Klump / Grandma Klump / Ernie Klump), Janet Jackson (Denice Gains), Larry Miller (Dean Richmond), John Ales (Jason)
Near the end of "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," there is a scene in which the titular character, the lovable, overweight scientist Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy), is sitting on the edge of a fountain with his fiance, Denise (Janet Jackson). Through a number of plot contrivances that are too strained to describe, Sherman has begun to lose his intelligence to the point that he can barely speak.
It is an oddly affecting moment in the middle of a ramshackle movie that seems determined to be as crude as possible at all costs. Perhaps this scene is affecting precisely because it is so different in tone and sentiment from about all the scenes around it, but I would also like to argue that it is affecting because Eddie Murphy is a gifted actor who makes the scene work.
Murphy shot to stardom in the 1980s playing smart-asses such as Reggie Hammond, the hotshot con in "48 Hrs." (1982), and Axel Foley, the trash-talking Detroit detective who shakes things up for the rich and powerful in "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984). This worked for a while, but the effect began to wear thin (the dismal performance of "Beverly Hills Cop III" in 1994 is testament to that). Murphy's best work since then has been when he played characters that differed from what most people assume to be the Murphy persona. Akeem, the prince searching for a bride in "Coming to America" (1988) was a step in the right direction, and Murphy may have found his true calling as Sherman Klump in "The Nutty Professor" (1996), a role that revitalized his career.
In that film and the sequel, Murphy plays not one, not two, not even three major roles. He plays six. With the help of expert make-up artist Rick Baker (who won an Oscar for his work on the first film), Murphy disappears inside all the members of the Klump family, from the sweetly overenthusiastic Mama Klump, to grumpy Papa Klump, to the nearly toothless, but still overly libidinal Grandma Klump. Each of the characters is a broad caricature, but Murphy manages to bring a hint of humanity to each of them (well, maybe with the exception of Grandma; she remains an almost uncomfortable amalgam of all the unspoken fear and revulsion we have about getting old).
Using blue screens and digital effects, director Peter Segal ("Tommy Boy") is able to stage long takes in which every Klump family member appears to be interacting with the others seamlessly. It is, in fact, the best kind of special effect: the one that creates an effect without drawing attention to itself. It becomes almost too easy to forget that one actor is playing every character in a single scene.
Despite having so many characters, the majority of "Nutty Professor II" works because it maintains Sherman's decency at the heart of the story. Sherman is a big nice guy, as sweet and utterly naive as he is overweight and clumsy. You can't help but like him.
When the story opens, he is romancing Denise, a fellow genetics professor, when his buried alter ago, the rambunctious and obnoxious Buddy Love, begins to make his presence known again. Using a lot of pseudoscience about gene extraction, Sherman removes Buddy and allows him to become his own being (a sort of bizarre literalization of Freud's "return of the repressed"). But, in this process, Sherman begins to lose his intelligence. Meanwhile, Buddy steals Sherman's chemical discovery of a youth formula and almost ruins his career and his relationship with Denise in the process.
The plot, which is the bumbling concoction of four different screenwriters (including "Antz" scribes Paul and Chris Weitz), lurches back and forth constantly. There is no flow or rhythm, only broad setpieces that range from the expected Klump family dinner (this one taking place at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant) to a demonstration of the youth formula that goes terribly awry when a hamster grows to monstrous proportions and sexually assaults Sherman's nemesis, Dean Richmond (the always reliable Larry Miller). Flatulence and gross sexual pranks abound, and the writers even manage to work in a dream sequence that is a parody of "Armageddon" (1998), "Star Wars" (1977), and "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) all at the same time, while still managing to work in fart jokes.
"Nutty Professor II" would have been better if it had concentrated more on its subtitle: The Klumps. Buddy Love was the weakest link in the original, and here he is even more grating and less funny. Essentially, he is Eddie Murphy at his worst. The writers were so desperate to give the character a new edge that they worked in a strained plot device where Buddy's DNA gets mixed up with a dog, causing him to chase cats, fetch balls, and smell when other dogs are in heat.
Yet, even with Eddie Murphy at his worst, there is still enough room in the film for Eddie Murphy at his best. Playing the Klumps--all of them--may be Murphy's greatest accomplishment. Most actors are taxed to make one character interesting for an hour and forty-five minutes. Murphy does it with five. It's just too bad Buddy Love had to take up any screen time because he represents one dimension of Murphy's comic arsenal that could stand to be retired.
©2000 James Kendrick