This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Eddie Murphy's talent for comedy has been in eclipse during these lean recent years of flops such as “A Vampire In Brooklyn.” But in “The Nutty Professor” he's back with exuberance and energy, in a movie that's like a thumb to the nose for everyone who said he'd lost it. He's very good. And the movie succeeds in two different ways: It's sweet and good-hearted, and then again it’s raucous slapstick and bathroom humor. I liked both parts.
The movie is inspired by a 1963 Jerry Lewis comedy, said by some to be Lewis' best, in which Jerry played a mild-mannered chemistry professor whose secret formula allowed him to transform himself into an obnoxious lounge lizard named Buddy Love. Some said Buddy Love was modeled on Lewis' former partner Dean Martin, allowing him to play both sides of their double act. Others said the Buddy Love character was an uncanny foreshadowing of Lewis' own personality in the years to come. Maybe it was a little of both.
The Murphy version follows the broad outlines of the Lewis film, with one inspired addition: It makes the hero fat, in addition to making him shy and inept, and that doubles the opportunities for physical comedy. Jerry Lewis’ transformation from the professor into Buddy Love was a personality switch, but Murphy also goes through a complete physical morphing, from 400 pounds to average weight and back again, sometimes almost instantly.
As the movie opens, Murphy is Professor Sherman Klump, brilliant chemist and geneticist, and fat slob. He falls instantly in love with a new graduate student named Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett) and bashfully bumbles his way into asking her out on a date. Meanwhile, his position at school depends on raising new research funds, and the smarmy college dean (Larry Miller) puts on the pressure during a sarcastic meeting (“Anything I can get for you? Juice? Coffee? Rack of lamb?”).