The most beloved scene in the 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor was the one where sweet-natured, obese science professor Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) sat down to a rambunctious dinner with his family. The popularity of the scene is easy to explain – Mama Klump, Papa Klump, Granny Klump and brother Ernie Klump were all also played by Eddie Murphy, who displayed remarkable comic chemistry with himself. It’s no surprise, then, to find the family’s role greatly expanded in the exhausting sequel, The Klumps.
As the new movie opens, things are clearly going Sherman’s way – he’s discovered a revolutionary new youth formula and he’s dating Janet Jackson. Or rather, fellow professor Denise Gaines, played by Jackson, who is engaged in some groundbreaking research of her own, involving DNA. Sherman’s courtship of Denise takes a nosedive, however, when his repressed alter-ego Buddy Love begins to emerge from his subconscious, causing Sherman to make rude and raunchy outbursts at inappropriate moments. Determined to rid himself of Buddy once and for all, Sherman uses Denise’s radical gene splicing technique to excise Buddy’s genetic code from his brain.
All seems well at first; Sherman proposes to Denise and the Klump family prepares for a joyous, long-awaited wedding. Then, through the miracle of movie science, Buddy is reborn – this time as a separate entity rather than Sherman’s Mr. Hyde. Buddy plans to get his hands on the youth formula, sabotage Sherman’s batch, and sell the good stuff himself to the highest bidder. But Sherman has stowed the formula at his parents’ house, where Papa Klump, suffering from Viagra-proof impotency, decides to sample the wares. Furthermore, the removal of the Buddy gene proves disastrous to Sherman’s intellect – his brain cells begin to deteriorate, rendering him stupider and stupider. And then there’s Sherman’s horny grandmother…and the giant hamster…and did I mention that Buddy is now part dog?
Between the story and the screenplay, five writers are credited for The Klumps, and the result is a textbook example of too-many-cooks syndrome. The frantic, scattershot approach reeks of desperation, and the movie grows exponentially more silly as it goes along. When Sherman’s presentation of the youth formula to its potential corporate buyers goes horribly awry (this is where the giant hamster comes in), his brother Ernie muses, "Now – was that supposed to happen?" It’s a question that arises all too frequently while watching this movie. Because, while the wacky plot tangents fly fast and furious, they all follow the exact same trajectory – right into the toilet. That’s the other major holdover from the first movie’s Klump family dinner: an insatiable fascination with the comedic possibilities of the human digestive system. There’s enough gas in this movie to get the rising prices at America’s pumps back under a dollar. Flatulence humor hits an all time low with a fantasy sequence that parodies Armageddon, Star Wars and 2001 – all without generating so much as a weak chuckle.
So what does The Klumps have going for it? Eddie Murphy, and plenty of him. The former Saturday Night Live star is in practically every shot of the movie – sometimes in three or four places – and though the digital compositions are occasionally shaky, Murphy is always sharp and completely focused. If there’s a more brilliantly inventive comic performance this year, I’ll eat Sherman Klump’s pants. Buried under mountains of latex, Murphy manages to fully inhabit six distinct characters – seven if you include the youth formula-injected version of Papa Klump. All the strain and ludicrous plot machinations the writers provide are for naught. The only funny moments in The Klumps are the few brief scenes where the various Murphy incarnations sit around riffing and bickering. It’s certainly not the first time Murphy has surrounded his undeniably versatile talent with a complete dud of a movie, and it probably won’t be the last. But if there must be a Nutty III, please do us all favor – just turn on the cameras and let him loose. Save the fart jokes for Adam Sandler.