Nutty Professor II: The Klumps
Who is the finest comic actor in films today? Certainly not Jim Carrey, the one-trick pony, who falls back on his raised eyebrows, patented leer, and horse-tooth grin ad nauseum. In fact, with the single -- mighty -- exception of "Man on the Moon," he is repetitious and, now, just dull. I would suggest, in fact, that brilliant as he was in "Man on the Moon," he succeeded because he was playing a man, Andy Kaufman, who in real life was a one-dimensional human being. Carrey is the embodiment of shtick, and shtick doesn't wear well. Who else? Only one: Eddie Murphy.
Eddie Murphy is incomparably the brilliant comic star of his generation, and maybe the one before as well. His body of film work shows a range far greater than we would expect: He works by creating a character and then using that character to communicate with us in the audience. We saw some of it on "Saturday Night Live," where his wit grew out of the characters he created in the sketches. His Axel Foley in "Beverly Hills Cop," a comedy beautifully written and well directed, was a fascinating person whose wit came out of a believable career as a Detroit cop. Even in "Life," an awkward film, he held his character and never slipped into easy laughs or cheesy moments of false sentiment.
Now here, and also in the first "Nutty Professor," he gives us the Klumps, a whole family. He plays them all, six of the seven of them, and he doesn't play them for laughs, and he doesn't laugh at them either. He's taken care that they are real and witty enough to make their own jokes, have their own fights, live their own relationships. It is we who laugh instead. That in itself is an achievement, because he has differentiated them, given each his or her own personality, look, voice, and manner. Sherman, the professor, is a university star of genetic research, whose work has led him to invent a fountain of youth, an elixir that will make you young again. He is thoughtful, proper, courtly, and sincerely proud of his work.
He is also painfully aware that he is gigantically fat, and so cannot bring himself to believe that his beautiful coworker Denise Gaines (Janet Jackson) has actually fallen in love with him. Sherman's mother, thrilled at her son's new love interest, is that classic black American creation, the churchgoing woman who sings in the choir, dresses in full-figure Sunday outfits, claps her hands at every exciting piece of news, and is the emotional center of her family. She also retains a healthy libido that her husband has lost, and there's a nice sequence where he steals a bit of his son's elixir and goes out for a sexy night on the town.
And speaking of libido there's Granny Klump, toothless and horny, who is probably the progenitor of Sherman's doppelganger, the pure id-meister Buddy Love, trapped inside Sherman's body but ready to pop out at the very worst possible moments, to embarrass and torment his poor host. Sherman, desperate to rid himself of Buddy, finds the defective gene in his own DNA that must be removed in order to destroy Buddy, and part of the film's plot revolves around their struggle for dominance. Buddy is actually less visible here than he was in the first film, and properly so, because he's limited to tormenting Sherman. There is, however, a fine scene in which Granny traps Buddy for sex in the family garage.
The film has some flat sections that slow things down for a while, but it has enough delicious wit to keep us on our toes. There's Sherman's dream sequence in which a black Obi-Wan Kenobi helps him through a difficult moment, and then there's the giant hamster that finds love with the school's rapacious dean, leading to one of the great payoff lines of all time.
Another hero of the film, who won an Oscar for best makeup for his work in the first "Nutty Professor," is the artist Rick Baker. He has created well-differentiated heads, faces and bodies for the Klumps that seem completely human, realistic, and thoroughly believable. Murphy is able to work inside each of them as though they were his own. The film is a fascinating glimpse, for non-blacks, at the way in which African-Americans see and play with their own stereotypes.