Professor II: The Klumps
Eddie Murphy's first Nutty Professor film in 1996 took the basic Jekyll and Hyde concept of Jerry Lewis' 1963 original and turned it into a wildly grotesque special-effects comedy. The body of Professor Sherman Klump shrank and grew erratically as the Buddy Love within threatened to take over his personality entirely.
This sequel starts with a reminder of those problems of internal and psychological transformation suffered by Sherman, as a grinning Buddy head pokes out of his trousers on his wedding day – an apparition that turns out to be a dream. Although Sherman seeks therapy to resolve his divided self, the filmmakers have a simpler solution.
Through a process of gene extraction, Sherman manages to separate Buddy from his being. This leads to two dire consequences: the essence of Buddy is now free to mutate with someone else (who turns out to be a dog), and Sherman begins to lose his intelligence, making him somewhat less attractive to his fiancée, Denise (Janet Jackson).
Nutty Professor II strikes an odd compromise between the vulgar possibilities of its subject and a more sanitised mainstream approach. Unlike in Scary Movie (2000), the outrageousness is essentially confined to minor characters and animals – there is a particularly memorable scene of homosexual rape involving a giant hamster and Klump's unlikable university boss.
The 1996 film exploited, as many B grade horror-comedies have done since the '80s, the potential within this subject to both "go all the way" and disavow the consequences – since Sherman never remembered what he did as Buddy. In this tamer version of the story, nothing really disturbing or extreme happens, for instance, to Denise – although the string of clever references to such intimacy thrillers as Cape Fear (1991) keep raising this prospect.
Murphy's main reason for embarking on this sequel is to expand the time given in the previous film to the Klump family – every member of which is played by him. The scenes of family interaction are a marvel of digital wizardry – with every Klump moving and talking all at once as in an Altman movie – but are not always as funny as the team of writers seems to imagine.
Although Murphy has many rivals in American screen comedy these days, he is still a tremendous performer. He is more at ease, however, in films that do not strain to make him a lovable hero. Too much of Nutty Professor II is devoted to Sherman's niceness and personal redemption.
However, the fact that, by the end, Sherman once more "contains" Buddy hopefully clears the way for a Nutty Professor III in which the evil alter ego takes over at last.
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© Adrian Martin December 2000