The Nutty Professor

By the time Vampire In Brooklyn was released last year, the act of watching, let alone enjoying, an Eddie Murphy movie seemed a pastime of yore. But Murphy's Major Career Comeback assumes the form of a remake of Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor—a seemingly foolish choice for an image overhaul, but it does revive Murphy's dormant gifts for ad-libbing and wacky characterizations. The original was Lewis' uneasy attempt to combine his broad clowning with grandiose cinematic technique; Murphy's less ambitious but more sympathetic version comes closer to the mark, with spastic Julius Kelp replaced by sweet, shy, overweight Sherman Klump. While Kelp's formula transformed him into a thinly disguised Dean Martin parody, Klump's elixir turns him into Eddie Murphy, or at least the slick, machismo-soaked wiseass he usually portrays. (Is it a sly repudiation of past cinematic transgressions?) The film is otherwise plastic; the supporting players stink and a few too many fart jokes exist where wit belonged. But underneath his Rick Baker fat-suit and makeup, Murphy conveys a genuine sense of humility and hurt, and his turns as Klump's obese, lusty clan evoke his Saturday Night Live salad days.

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