The Nutty Professor is a bittersweet treat. On one hand, it’s a perfectly entertaining family comedy, chock to the rafters with not one but two brilliant Eddie Murphy performances (the rest are debateable) and some good jokes. On the other, it marks the beginning of the Eddie Murphy we know today (Norbit).
Retrospect’s a bitch, huh? Still, whatever Murphy may have done to his reputation in the years following its release, there’s still much to enjoy in The Nutty Professor. You know the plot, unless you somehow managed to miss the late nineties and everything which followed (or the preceding Jerry Lewis vehicle upon which this remake is loosely based): Murphy plays Professor Sherman Klump, a lovely, obese genius desperate to lose weight and impress the apple of his eye, Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett Smith). Enter Klump’s formula, a potion which temporarily alters the user’s DNA: hey presto, instant weight loss. Here enters Buddy Love, the Hyde to Klump’s Jekyll, a smooth-talking, confident motormouth who threatens to overwhelm the professor’s entire life: starting with Miss Purty.
We’re used to seeing Murphy putting on silly voices and playing multiple characters by now, but what we may have forgotten is just how sensitive his portrayal of Sherman is, making the character easy to love and sympathise with, in spite of the crass caricature which surrounds him. Years later, Sherman’s ordeal at the hands of Dave Chappelle’s stand-up comedian remains genuinely heartbreaking and difficult to watch. His Buddy Love is less nuanced, but there’s an impressive physicality to it, not to mention a surprising sense of menace beneath all of the charm and pomp. As upsetting as Klump’s humiliation is, Buddy’s revenge is equally satisfying and easily among the best work Murphy or Chappelle have ever done.
And then, of course, there are all the fart gags. The Nutty Professor is as puerile as you could hope for from a late nineties comedy about a morbidly obese family and their flatulence, including (but not limited to) the imbibing of animal turds, fart jokes, off-colour old lady sex jokes, and even more fart jokes. And that’s fine! There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing, and The Nutty Professor is very much that time and place.
The film itself isn’t the only nineties throwback available – the no-frills disc’s special features consisting of a trailer and a series of text descriptions in place of a Making Of documentary or audio commentary. Even more quaint – you have to exit the film (which plays automatically) to access the menu. Precious memories!
The Nutty Professor remains fine family fun (depending on the family) buoyed by Eddie Murphy at the top of his kiddie-friendly game (depending on the kiddie) and special effects which still hold up well today. The sequel, though? Well, you can have too much of a good thing – just ask poor Sherman and his rapidly expanding waistline.
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1996) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: TOM SHADYAC / SCREENPLAY: DAVID SHEFFIELD, BARRY W. BLAUSTEIN, TOM SHADYAC, STEVE OEDEKERK / STARRING: EDDIE MURPHY, JADA PINKETT SMITH, LARRY MILLER / RELEASE DATE: 29TH FEBRUARY