Nutty Professor II: The Klumps proves that, as an actor, Eddie Murphy has more in common with Tracey Ullman than Martin Lawrence. In this bravura performance, Murphy embodies an entire big family: Professor Sherman Klump, his parents Cletus and Emma, older brother Ernie, and a grandmother as libidinous as she is wizened.
In Big Momma’s House, Lawrence’s impersonation of a sassy, plus-sized old woman was tinged with hostility: The audience was meant to laugh at her. But, as in Ullman’s gallery of characters, the laughs in Nutty Professor II emerge from the Klumps, not at their expense.
Eddie Murphy has imbued each character with a distinctive personality and individual traits. When Cletus — feeling not just past his prime but beyond his usefulness to Emma — ingests the fountain of youth formula created by scientist son Sherman, he’s ready to get down to James Brown. Rick Baker’s superb makeup design illustrates Cletus at two different stages of life, and Murphy embodies his sheer, unadulterated joy at reliving his youth.
But while Nutty Professor II has more than a few tender, revealing moments, the film — like Sherman Klump — has a dual nature. The script by Murphy’s former “Saturday Night Live” writers, David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein (Beyond the Mat), and bottom-feeding brothers Paul and Chris Weitz (American Pie, Chuck & Buck), means that for every tender moment between the two nerds in love, Sherman and geneticist Dr. Denise Gaines (Janet Jackson), there are a dozen gross-out sequences which push the film’s PG 13 rating to its outer limits.
Murphy’s first Nutty Professor (a remake of Jerry Lewis’ 1963 film, itself a smarmy reworking of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) unleashed Sherman’s alter ego, the lewd, fast-talking huckster, Buddy Love. This sequel is actually better at portraying Buddy as Sherman’s id, the part of himself he can’t bear to acknowledge. But with the Klumps as the main course, Buddy becomes a side dish, except during the film’s creepiest — and hilarious — set piece, when Granny Klump has an indecent proposal for Love.
Capable if uninspired director Peter Segal (Tommy Boy) knows that keeping the camera focused on Eddie Murphy while he brilliantly plays with himself is what makes Nutty Professor II work. Self-love will never be quite the same.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].