Tom Shadyac’s The Nutty Professor (1996) is a riotous gem of absurdity that provides gifted Eddie Murphy with his most outstanding - and outlandish comedic role in years. Murphy is Professor Sherman Klump, a morbidly obese, though utterly brilliant, lecturer at Wellman College (actually Stanford University). His one desire is to be the man he believes sexy graduate assistant, Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett Smith) would find desirable. Like all intelligently made comedies (Tootsie, When Harry Met Sally, The Secret of My Success, Working Girl, 9 to 5), The Nutty Professor is, at its core, fundamentally serious about its message - to find true acceptance from within before seeking it from others. Eddie Murphy knocks this one out of the ballpark, adlibbing whole portions of dialogue as only he can, and, coming across with some truly inspired gems along the way. Forget Julio Macat's technical wizardry in the camera department that effectively allows Eddie Murphy to flawlessly interact as his own mother, father, brother and grandmother (all in the same scene). What sells the hijinks beyond sheer nincompoopery is Murphy's tour de force eclecticism, his ability to don the chameleon's skin repeatedly and become personalities that are well defined and apart from one another.
The screenplay by David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Tom Shadyac and Steve Oedekerk is very loosely based on the 1963 comedy starring Jerry Lewis (and written by Lewis and Bill Richmond). Professor Sherman Klump (Murphy) has been experimenting on lab hamsters with a cellular accelerator in the hopes of discovering a cure for obesity. Regrettably, Sherman's superior, the short tempered martinet Dean Richmond (Larry Miller) is increasingly dissatisfied with what he misperceives as Sherman's incompetency. It doesn't help matters that Sherman's girth inadvertently flipped the switch that triggered the release of his 600 hamsters, thereby causing a mass exodus that has left Wellman's campus crawling with the furry little critters.
Sherman's undergraduate assistant, Jason (John Ales) firmly believes in the quest they have undertaken. But the experiments are taking too long. So Sherman does the unthinkable – in a moment of weakness he plays Jekyll and Hyde, using an experimental weight loss serum on himself and morphing into the gregarious Buddy Love. Carla is instantly attracted to Love and why not? He's slim and slick and full of self-confidence. There's just one problem. The serum doesn't last, forcing Sherman to repeatedly drink his potion to sustain his double life…but at what cost? Gradually, Buddy begins to dominate Sherman's mind. Even when Sherman is Sherman he hears Buddy taunting him from within, making him feel inadequate and threatening to take over Sherman's life for good. Jason, who has begun to suspect that Sherman and Buddy are one in the same, confronts his mentor with this knowledge and Sherman confesses that he has indeed unleashed Buddy to impress Carla.
In the meantime, Dean Richmond has become obsessed with securing a hefty grant from wealthy philanthropist Harlan Hartley (James Coburn). After learning that Klump has discovered the medicinal secrets to weight loss, Richmond makes an ominous threat. Either Sherman will secure Harlan's grant funding for Wellman or he is out on his ear. Worse, Richmond - who doesn't know the real secret behind the formula - also tells Sherman that his replacement with the faculty will be none other than Buddy Love! Weary of the prospect of losing his job and also the girl he clearly loves, Sherman relents to taking an overdose of the serum that will satisfy everyone except himself. However, at the height of Buddy's popularity Sherman confronts his alter ego by bringing forth his own inner demons. During a lavish fund raising mixer, Buddy is forcibly morphed back into Sherman before a stunned room of onlookers and Sherman reveals to them all that the true quest for inner peace is not to be found in modifying one's exterior, but to be truly happy as you are.
Dean Richmond disavows any knowledge that Sherman and Buddy were one in the same. But Harlan has had a change of heart. He decides to give Wellman the grant anyway, because Professor Klump has proven to be not only a scholar but a gentleman besides. The evening's festivities end with Sherman and Carla dancing the night away. The Nutty Professor is frothy farce, outrageous 'in your face' comedy. But it's also a film with genuine heart and a very classy 'feel good' message besides. Eddie Murphy proves himself a deft raconteur, conjuring up whole portions of dialogue off the cuff for the two side-splitting dinner vignettes that involve the entire Klump family. Enduring excruciating hours of prosthetic make up applications seems to have heightened, rather than dampened Murphy's zeal for eccentric riffing.
Like when Murphy, as Grandma Klump, goes off on a tangent about the various daytime talk show hosts she's enjoyed over the years - before settling on Mike Douglas (the only white man who ever made her moist) we can find the humor not simply in Murphy's crude comment, but also in the way he convincingly reacts as an aged black matriarch, short on attention span and shaking when eating her vegetables (she eventually stuffs a handful of mashed potatoes into her mouth with her bare hands).
Or when Murphy, as Mama Klump, encourages her youngest child, Ernie (Jamal Mixon) to flex his flabby arms at the table, repeatedly shouting over the fray of dinner conversation, "Oh my baby's a little Hercules. Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!" we willingly accept Mrs. Klump's unabashed and naive joy. She is the quintessence of motherly love. The rest of the cast all do their thing competently enough, but The Nutty Professor is really Eddie Murphy's show of shows and he devours the scenery with aplomb and an uncompromisingly well-crafted sense of timing that is unparalleled in today's cinema firmament. This is a great movie, one that hasn't worn out its welcome twelve years after its debut. How many other contemporary comedies can you say that about?
Universal Home Video has wisely chosen The Nutty Professor for a Blu-ray upgrade as part of its 100th Anniversary in film making. The results are - as Mama Klump would say - fab-a-lus!' We get a gorgeous 1080p transfer with bold, rich and vibrant colors. Even the split screen work (employed to have Murphy interact with himself when the Klumps are all together) is flawlessly rendered on the Blu-ray. Contrast is bang on. Fine detail is evident throughout. The image is sharp without being digitally enhanced and DNR manipulations seem to have been kept to a bare minimum. The audio is 5.1 DTS and far more aggressive than anticipated. The Nutty Professor is primarily a dialogue driven movie, so you wouldn't necessarily expect a work out from your rear and side channel speakers. And, like me, you'd be dead wrong. David Newman's score gets an A-list treatment with groundswells of bass while the folio during Sherman's transformation sequences delivers a bombast of thunderous sound and fury.
Once again, Universal stiffs us on extra features. We get a nice featurette on the late executive Lew Wasserman and another on 100 years of memorable characters from the studio archive. Neither is particularly comprehensive. The Wasserman featurette is rather curious, not because the old time mogul/agent doesn't deserve such credit (in fact, he rates a full feature length documentary on his life and career), but rather, because he had absolutely nothing to do with the making of The Nutty Professor! I suspect as more 100th anniversary titles are released we'll see much more of such incongruously 'planned' special features crop up on other titles.
This is a rather minor pet peeve, and one utterly unrelated to my review of The Nutty Professor, but I'll take this opportunity to point out that some of Universal's biggest catalogue titles (Coal Miner's Daughter, Cry Freedom, The Secret of My Success, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) are NOT slated for Blu-ray release as part of the studio's 100th Anniversary. Perhaps Universal should have considered farming out some titles to a smaller boutique Blu-ray distributor like Twilight Time to help flesh out their celebration. Bottom line: The Nutty Professor on Blu-ray comes very highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)