Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Nutty Professor (1996)
Studio Line: Universal Studios

Eddie Murphy gives the "performances" of his career playing no less than seven roles in the comedy. Murphy stars as Dr. Sherman Klump, a kind, "calorically challenged" genetics professor who longs to shed his 400-pound frame in order to win the heart of beautiful Jada Pinkett. So, with one swig of his experimental fat-reducing serum, Sherman becomes "Buddy Love," fast-talking, pumped-up, plumped down Don Juan. Can Sherman stop his buff alter ego before it's too late, or will Buddy have the last laugh?

Director: Tom Shadyac
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, Larry Miller, Dave Chapelle, James Coburn
Box Office: Budget: $54 million. Opening Weekend: $25.4 million (2115 screens). Domestic Gross: $128.8 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; rated PG-13; 16 chapters; 96 min.; $24.98; 1/20/98.
Supplements: Trailer; Cast and Crew; Production Notes.
Purchase: DVD | DTS DVD | Eddie Murphy Collection | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/D

Back when the 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor hit screens, it instantly revived Eddie Murphy’s dormant career. For the most part, he’s been able to maintain his renewed popularity in the five years since that time; a few clunkers like Life and Holy Man cropped up along the way, but he’s also developed some decent-sized hits like 1998’s Dr. Dolittle and 1999’s Bowfinger. He also featured in two animated successes, 1998’s Disney offering Mulan and 2001’s DreamWorks mega-smash Shrek.

Murphy fared fairly well with sequels to two of these flicks. 2001’s Dr. Dolittle 2 earned a reasonable $101 million, and 2000’s Klumps: The Nutty Professor II took in a positive $123 million. When I first learned of the latter, I thought it would be a total dud as a film. It looked like the moviemakers simply took the crudest aspects of the first flick and poured on more and more of them.

Happily, I discovered otherwise when I saw the movie. While no one could ever call Klumps a subtle film, it still offered a light and witty touch, and it worked well largely due to the comic gifts of Murphy. He played a number of different roles throughout the flick, and he did this with aplomb. It seems unimaginable that Klumps could have worked without Murphy.

However, one can’t make the same claim for the first Murphy-led Nutty, since that flick was a remake of the original 1963 Jerry Lewis picture. I never saw that one, so I can’t indicate how much the two differ, though I’d expect them to be fairly dissimilar, especially since the 1996 Nutty works with a fat protagonist, something not found in Lewis’ piece. Still, the nature of the remake leads me to feel that the project could easily have been adapted with someone else in place of Murphy, while Klumps seemed better tailored to his skills.

I’m happy Nutty revived Murphy’s career, but in retrospect, it doesn’t seem like a terribly interesting film. The movie tells the tale of college professor Sherman Klump (Murphy), a brilliant scientist with a serious weight problem. However, his research places him on the brink of a solution to obesity. Though the formula needs additional testing, in a moment of despair, Klump downs the potion. He’s sick of the abuse he suffers as a heavy man, a fact that comes home when he takes sexy colleague Carla (Jada Pinkett) on a date to a comedy club; there entertainer Reggie (Dave Chappelle) mercilessly mocks and humiliates the fat man.

Initially, Klump’s ingestion of the fluid appears to work. He instantly slims down to a buff form, and he becomes a slick, hunky guy. However, this comes with side effects. For one, the potion wears off after a while, and this occurs at unexpected and inconvenient times. Also, it quickly becomes clear that thin Sherman is really a different person. When under the influence, he turns into alter ego Buddy Love, a cocky, egotistical personality totally at odds with Klump’s innocent and gentle ways.

Nutty depicts the trials and tribulations of Sherman’s battles with weight and with Buddy, and we also see his attempts to woo the lovely Carla. Inevitably, he encounters many setbacks, but don’t be surprised if it all ends happily.

Although Murphy clearly makes the whole shebang work, he seems oddly restrained compared to Klumps. It feels as though he hadn’t quite mastered the character, although he’d do so in the sequel. He doesn’t quite have Sherman’s vocal intonations developed, and this also affects his additional performances. As well as Sherman, Murphy briefly plays father Cletus Klump and brother Eddie Klump in the movie’s most popular scene, a dinner sequence in which we see a slew of Klumps; Murphy also suits up as mother Pearl and Granny Klump for this showcase piece. He effectively alters his voice for the females, but all of the males essentially sound like Murphy; he lacks the subtle differences that made the various roles more unique in Klumps.

I know that I should consider Nutty on its own merits, but since I watched the DVD after I’d seen the sequel twice in recent months, I found it impossible not to compare the two, and Klumps always seemed like the superior work. I figured it’d flop because it sounded like nothing but an extended recreation of the family dinner scene. It offered many more shots of the Klumps, and this appeared to be nothing more than a cheap gimmick.

However, the opposite seemed to be true. The dinner scene in Nutty came across as a pointless stunt while the additional Klump material in the sequel meshed naturally and entertainingly with the story. Oddly, the original felt like the more forced and awkward tale, as the sequel moved more smoothly and interestingly.

It also looked a lot better. As I watched Nutty, I was surprised to see how primitive the visuals seemed to be. The Klump make-up was much more primitive, and the special effects appeared to be shockingly simple and crude. Granted, I suppose the elements in Klumps may suffer in another few years, but I still didn’t expect such a substantial difference between the two films.

While Murphy provides a good performance as all the characters, he really grew into the roles over the interim. He made all of them seem more natural and believable, except for Buddy, who became even more gloriously over the top and obnoxious. Happily, Klumps relied much less on flatulence humor. Because of the Klump emphasis, I thought the sequel would be even more base than the original, but in truth, Nutty featured many more crude sequences. As I wrote in my notes, “Too many fart jokes!”

Only one element of Nutty really stood out to me: Chappelle’s purposefully grating performance as Reggie. He provided a delightful parody of lousy stand-up comedians, beginning with the bizarre and pointless catch phrase, “Women be shopping! You just can’t stop ‘em from shopping!” As simple as it sounds, those lines sum up the many lame comics who frequent the nation’s clubs, and I loved it.

Unfortunately, the rest of The Nutty Professor seemed less compelling to me. Had I not become so fond of its sequel, I may look upon it more positively, but since I think Klumps was a much more fun and entertaining piece, I found it tough to sit through the original. Nutty offered a good trial run for the sequel, but otherwise it didn’t do a lot for me.

The DVD:

The Nutty Professor appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture showed some mild concerns, as a whole it looked quite good and it displayed no significant issues.

Sharpness consistently seemed to be crisp and accurate. The movie suffered from virtually no examples of softness, as the image always looked detailed and accurate. I detected no problems related to moiré effects or jagged edges, and print flaws also appeared to be minor. Some grit and a few specks cropped up at times, and a little grain materialized during occasional low-light sequences, but these defects remained modest.

Colors seemed to be nicely bright and vivid. The movie worked from a reasonably naturalistic palette, and it replicated the tones with solid accuracy. Throughout the flick, the hues came across as vibrant and distinct, and they showed no signs of bleeding, noise or other concerns. Black levels also looked deep and rich, and shadow detail was clean and appropriately opaque; low-light sequences balanced elements neatly. Ultimately, I was quite pleased with the visual experience provided by The Nutty Professor.

Although the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for The Nutty Professor usually seemed fairly subdued, it provided generally solid accompaniment for the action. As is typical for a comedy, the soundfield maintained an emphasis within the forward spectrum. There I heard good stereo separation to the music and nice delineation for the other elements. Most of the effects tended toward the ambient side of the equation, but a few scenes came to life in a more compelling manner. These were the flick’s “action” sequences, such as some dream pieces, the Buddy Love transformations, and the hamster attack. During those occasions, the elements panned and blended together well, and the surrounds kicked to life. The five-channel mix didn’t provide an overwhelming experience, but it seemed to be involving and lively nonetheless.

Audio quality appeared to be positive for the most part. Speech usually sounded crisp and natural, but some edginess crept into the mix, and at times I felt the dialogue came across as slightly thin. No problems related to intelligibility resulted, however. Music and effects demonstrated fine clarity and they seemed distinctive, but I thought they showed some restricted dynamics. A few tunes - like “This Is How We Do It” - offered deep low-end, but as a whole, bass response appeared to be somewhat lackluster. The fidelity was acceptable, but the package could have boasted a stronger punch. Nonetheless, I thought the soundtrack to The Nutty Professor worked fairly well for the material.

Less satisfying was the mix of supplements that accompanied The Nutty Professor. All we found was the film’s theatrical trailer and a couple of text pieces. Cast and Filmmakers provided brief but decent biographies of director Tom Shadyac and actors Murphy, Pinkett, Dave Chappelle and James Coburn. We also got some surprisingly detailed Production Notes that traced the genesis of the remake and many of its effects elements. While these pieces were interesting, I felt disappointed that Universal didn’t create a true special edition for Nutty. One would think the movie performed well enough to warrant that treatment.

However, the film’s sequel got a nice DVD release, and frankly, that’s fine with me, for I thought it was a more satisfying production across the board. In the case of The Nutty Professor, we find a rare example of a sequel that outdid the original. Nutty feels rough and sketchy compared to Klumps, and although it has some good moments, I didn’t particularly care for it at this time. The DVD offers very nice picture and sound, but it skimps on the extras. Eddie Murphy fans will definitely want to give The Nutty Professor a look, but others might want to go with its sequel instead.

Note that The Nutty Professor can be purchased in a number of different ways. In addition to the solo DVD that retails for $24.98, another version provides DTS 5.1 audio. It apparently adds no additional supplements, and it costs $34.98; I can’t tell if it omits the minor extras from the Dolby version, though. Finally, “The Eddie Murphy Collection” combines Nutty with Klumps, Bowfinger and Life into one package with a list price of $89.98. That’s a decent saving off of the combined MSRP of $103.92. If you know you want all four of the movies, it’s a nice deal, and even if you only suspect you’d like to have three of them, it may be worth your while to take a chance on the fourth; the difference in cost seems small enough to warrant the minor gamble.

By the way, the “Collection” includes the original special edition release of Klumps, not the more recent Uncensored version. Although I recently read some Internet claims that the latter seems vastly superior to the former, I disagree. I prefer the original disc because it includes stronger supplements. The additional “raunchy” footage put back into Uncensored doesn’t add much to the experience, in my opinion, as the theatrical cut seems to be just as good.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9696 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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