The Nutty Professor (1996)

You'll laugh till you cry in this one, that much is certain.  The 
giggles come first, in the opening scene, as we watch an army of 
rodents overtake the science wing of a small California college.  
They flood into the halls, the classrooms, and the courtyard.  By 
the time that a couple of the critters go airborne (courtesy of a 
leaf blower), we're rightly amused even as we secretly hope that 
the rest of the movie won't be quite so silly.  (That deep feeling 
of dread isn't helped by the fact that the director's last film was 
ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE.)  The Dean (Larry Miller) knows who's 
responsible and is soon calling for Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy), a 
chemistry professor who has just arrived on campus and is now 
innocently surveying the pandemonium.  In the original 1963 film, 
Jerry Lewis played the professor as a buck-toothed lab nerd; in 
this remake-- which owes as much to the story of "Jekyll and Hyde" 
as Lewis' original-- the nutty (actually, more clumsy and slightly 
absent-minded) professor is ostracized for a different reason:  he 
weighs 400 pounds.

The chuckles come next.  They start at the first sight of Sherman, 
who is the size of a small tank.  (A Sherman tank?)  We know it's 
Eddie under all that make-up, but we still can't believe our eyes.  
He disappears so completely into the role of the reserved and 
rather polite professor that only his eyes threaten to give him 
away.  (Sherman Klump has serious self-esteem problems, and Eddie's 
knowing gaze never betrays that characterization.)  So, we chuckle 
at the whole big, goofy package:  Eddie playing with restraint, 
Rick Baker's incredible make-up, and such old-but-still-funny gags 
as a big man trying to wriggle his way into a very small chair.  

Laughter, in turn, begins to boom after we meet Sherman's rowdy 
family.  The scene is set at a dinner table and there's Eddie, in 
four other roles, playing the brother, mother, father, and, even, 
the phlegm-hacking, foul-mouthed grandma.  It's an extension of a 
bit that he did in COMING TO AMERICA-- where he played a couple of 
fringe characters, including an old Jewish man-- and it's a howler.  
(The seamless special effects help tremendously.)  Though these 
other family members are closer to caricatures than characters, you 
can still expect to miss a good three-quarters of the dialogue once 
the fart jokes begin to blow.  (I can't remember when I've heard an 
audience laugh as hard.)

The real guffaws-- you know, the ones that cause tears to start 
streaming-- get going after the professor, tired from trying to 
loose weight and now enamored of a graduate student (Jada Pinkett), 
ingests an experimental formula to reconstruct his DNA.  Calm down, 
Mr. Simpson.  Lightning flashes, the music swells, and Sherman 
later awakens a new man.  Literally.  The 400-pound weakling has 
transformed into a rail-thin, super-swaggering character who calls 
himself Buddy Love (also played by Murphy, sans make-up).  If the 
fat guy is an easy metaphor for Later Eddie, here is a knowing nod 
to Murphy's old self.  The funny Eddie.  The angry comic who made 
us laugh so hard in concert, on television, and in movies like 48 
HRS. and TRADING PLACES.  In a stand-out scene where Buddy 
confronts a rude stand-up comic who had previously poked fun of 
Sherman, Eddie reaches out and grabs the audience-- and the film 
itself-- and gives a vigorous shake.  We haven't seen that man in 
over ten years.

And so goes the rest of the movie, with its many gut-busting highs 
and the occasional look-at-your-watch low.  Director Steve Oedekirk 
(ACE I) struggles to strike a balance between the sweet (Sherman), 
the silly (Sherman's family; the fat jokes), and the angry (Buddy 
Love).  He gets it about half-right.  For all the funny gags and 
surprising special-effects-- we witness, among other things, what 
surely must be the biggest bout of flatulence in screen history.  
Sorry, Mel-- THE NUTTY PROFESSOR still plays more like a series of 
strung-together skits than as a particularly cohesive feature-film.  
Too bad.

An apologetic ending is the movie's low point and you can see it 
coming from a mile off.  Though it's probably PC to include some 
warm fuzzies for the benefit of those who are, er, equatorial-
challenged, the last five minutes are a disaster.  (The sequence 
doesn't even make sense.  When Buddy Love is exposed as Sherman 
Klump, those who witness the transformation react as if they've 
seen an everyday occurrence!  Or just walked out of a screening of 
MARY REILLY.)  Luckily, a series of outtakes is played over the 
closing credits, giving us one more chance to cry before we're sent 
packing with a smile and a song.  However unstable (at times) the 
concoction, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR is still a movie that leaves you 
feeling great: cleansed from the laughter, tickled by so many good 
jokes, and reaffirmed that a brilliant comic has finally returned 
to form.  I can't wait to see it again.  (Rated "PG-13"/95 min.)

Grade: B+

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies

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