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Klumped together

Nutty Professor II showcases Murphy's alter egos

A Nutty Professor movie might be the last place you look for psychological insight, but the comic takes on Jekyll & Hyde reveal more than you'd imagine. In the 1963 original, Jerry Lewis' klutzy, buck-toothed Professor Kelp transformed into cool hipster Buddy Love, commonly viewed as a barbed portrait of the comedian's ex-partner, Dean Martin. Eddie Murphy shows a similar ambivalence towards Buddy Love in his 1996 Nutty Professor remake. Murphy's brash, obnoxious Love hews close to Murphy's usual film persona, the Axel Foleys and Reggie Hammonds that made him a star. It's almost as though Murphy is repelled by his own comic aggression and has more sympathy toward Love's alter ego, rotund lovable Sherman Klump.

As in the dopily entertaining first film, Sherman Klump continues to be Murphy's most endearing creation in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Within Sherman's padding and latex, Murphy asserts dignity and vulnerability he almost never shows in his other films. But The Klumps suggests that the fat suit is becoming something of a crutch for Murphy, and the film's crude laughs are more frantic and sporadic than in the predecessor.

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps continues the tension between plump Sherman and slim Buddy Love and, by extension, Murphy and himself. The film begins with a wedding scene in which Sherman, at the altar, is struck by conspicuous priapism, only to have a cackling Buddy Love emerge from his fly. After the last film, Love has literally become Sherman's id, prompting him to blurt insults at least opportune moments.

While the first film involved a radical weight loss invention, Klumps turns on two sci-fi conceits. The first is Sherman's newly found fountain of youth, which becomes highly sought by academics, drug companies and Sherman's own family. The other is a means of genetic extraction that removes the "Buddy gene" from Sherman's system. Side effects include Sherman gradually losing his genius-level intellect and Love recombining into a separate individual. Thus the film switches between elements inspired by Flowers for Algernon, Cocoon and the "Star Trek" episode where Kirk split into two people.

The obese Klump kinfolk, also played by Murphy (thanks to make-up wizard Rick Baker), have had their roles, um, expanded from the first film: Klumps' comic highlight has the family descending on an "all you can eat" restaurant like a biblical plague. Murphy shows plenty of affection for Sherman's grumpy father (whose voice is identical to Thurgood Stubbs on Murphy's "The PJs"), who sneaks the youth formula as a Viagra substitute and becomes a leisure-suited Mack daddy. Mama Klump is dim and matronly, Grandma is wizened and randy, while brother Ernie is a track-suited loser (and isn't shown much).

A made-up Murphy also played multiple roles in Coming to America and Vampire in Brooklyn, and seems a bit narcissistic, only sharing the screen with himself. He's certainly unchallenged by blandly pissy Larry Miller as Sherman's nasty dean, while Janet Jackson (a placeholder for the first film's Jada Pinkett) merely twinkles pleasantly as the love interest.

Director Peter Segal leaves the film feeling rudderless and sloppy, shifting from strained, frantic comedy to gooey sentiment with whiplash speed. The Klumps does provide laughs most of the way through, but I can barely remember them after the fact. Certainly a dream scene, featuring Sherman in a spoof of Armageddon, is expensive without having much comic payoff. Murphy has more fun when Love, re-animated by canine DNA, shows doggie characteristics, like laying down newspaper in the men's room.

Klumps' predecessor, bursting as it was with puns and sight gags about the overweight, wasn't exactly a kind comedy. Klumps' mean streak is wider, taking rather cruel sport in frail old people, especially Grandma's sexual obsessions, sagging flesh and flashes of hostility ("Boy, would I like to throw some hot grease on you.") Not surprisingly, the film is filled with gross-out humor, including situations that suggest bestiality, cannibalism and incest (if you accept that Buddy Love and Grandma are related). Jokes about flatulence fill the air, making one wonder when farting became such an acceptable topic in PG-13 movies, prime time TV and even NPR's "Car Talk." (What a brave new millennium this is.)

By the end, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps has even featured a giant, marauding hamster that fires its "pellets" like a bazooka. Come to think of it, the first film was also filled with hamsters, while Chris Rock played a talking guinea pig in Murphy's Dr. Dolittle. Is Eddie Murphy trying to tell us something?