Offering incontrovertible proof that more is less, “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” tries too hard to do too much to top its 1996 smash-hit predecessor. Remember the raucous family gatherings in “The Nutty Professor” that had Eddie Murphy playing five different characters at the same crowded dinner table? Be prepared to laugh less at a lot more of the same thing in this overbearing but underwhelming sequel. Opening weekend B.O. numbers should be huge, but a rapid drop-off is likely, if not inevitable, as discouraging word of mouth spreads. Long-term ancillary prospects are marginally rosier.
The first “Professor” — a much-improved remake of Jerry Lewis’ 1963 take on the “Jekyll and Hyde” story — revolved around the misadventures of Sherman Klump, a grossly overweight genius who developed a split personality while testing an experimental serum on himself. Each time he took a swig of his unstable elixir, the shy professor morphed into Buddy Love, a flashy-dressing, smooth-talking swinger who looked and sounded a lot like — well, Eddie Murphy (or at least like the Eddie Murphy of everyone’s deepest, secret suspicions).
It didn’t take long for Buddy to attempt a hostile takeover, forcing Sherman to battle his alter ego to regain control of the body they time-shared.
With a little help from Oscar-winning makeup wiz Rick Baker, Murphy was a world-class hoot in both lead roles. With a little more of Baker’s help, Murphy was equally hilarious in his brief bits as four other members of the Klump clan: garrulous Papa, sweetly exuberant Mama, surly brother Ernie and sassy geezer Granny.
All of the Klumps are back in “Nutty Professor II,” and each gets a bigger slice of the action as the sequel shamelessly attempts to exploit and expand the most crowdpleasing bits and pieces of the 1996 original. Sherman is the nominal hero of the story, once again distracted by romantic longings as he toils on modern miracles of science, and once again winningly played by Murphy as an older, wiser and college-educated version of Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert.
There is something ineffably touching about Murphy’s portrayal of Sherman as a gently sensitive behemoth who laughs — but doesn’t smile — when he’s mocked for his gargantuan girth. Trouble is, there isn’t enough of the big lug in the sequel, because his attention-grabbing relatives repeatedly upstage him.
At first, the special effects in “Nutty Professor II” are so eye-poppingly prodigious that it’s easy to overlook the repetitiveness of the plotting and the coarseness of the humor. The interactions among the Murphy-Klump quintet are smooth, seamless and often downright astonishing, especially when one Eddie Murphy addresses another Eddie Murphy, then turns to embrace yet a third Eddie Murphy, who in turn says something to a fourth and a fifth.
You’re never entirely unaware that it’s really the same actor beneath each accumulation of latex and foam-rubber prosthetics. But director Peter Segal and his all-pro production crew — including makeup master Baker and visual effects supervisor Jon Farhat — make it childishly simple to make frequent leaps of the imagination, and to accept each Murphy as a uniquely amusing individual.
Unfortunately, the special effects are almost too extraordinary for the movie’s own good. Since it’s so easy to accept the illusion of five separate and distinct characters, the novelty value of that illusion starts to wane about a third of the way into “Nutty Professor II.”
To put it bluntly, you take the magic for granted. And once you stop marveling at the high-tech trickery, you begin to notice how much of the movie relies on lame jokes about flatulence, sexual dysfunction, animal excrement and the indefatigable horniness of Granny Klump, to say nothing of a gag involving the anal rape of a college dean (Larry Miller) by a chemically enhanced hamster, or the opening dream sequence in which Eddie Murphy makes a special guest appearance as the throbbing bulge in Sherman Klump’s trousers.
Just as “Scary Movie” expanded the boundaries for R-rated respectability, “Nutty Professor II” raises the limit for what passes for PG-13 entertainment. The previous “Nutty Professor” dabbled in rude and crude raunchiness as well, but not quite so frequently and desperately as the sequel, which often plays like an illustrated party record.
Buddy Love also returns in “Nutty Professor II,” despite Sherman Klump’s best efforts to literally drain the intruder out of his DNA. Sherman manages to isolate and extract an errant gene that is the last remaining trace of his own private Mr. Hyde. But the gene inadvertently mutates with a strand of dog hair — trust me, you don’t want to know how — and the result is a brave new Buddy who likes to chase cats, play fetch and sniff the air for traces of lovely ladies. This sly hound dog makes a play for Sherman’s new sweetheart, a brilliant scientist played with improbable persuasiveness by pop star Janet Jackson.
But even with his canine accouterments, Buddy simply isn’t as funny the second time around. For that matter, neither are the Klumps.