Long before Eddie Murphy received near universal ridicule and harsh words of criticism for his recent box office bomb "Norbit," he was wearing fat suits and taking on multiple roles in a comedy in the 1996 remake of Walt Disney's 1963 Jerry Lewis film of the same name, "The Nutty Professor." The Eddie Murphy remake found Eddie surpassing the number of roles Jerry Lewis pulled off by taking on seven roles. Murphy was the Jekyll and Hyde characters of Professor Sherman Klump and Buddy Love, but he was also the entire extended Klump clan. Helmed by Tom Shadyac, who helped boost the career of Jim Carrey, "The Nutty Professor" was Eddie Murphy's first foray into more family friendly comedies after making a name for himself as a foul mouthed comedian in the "48 Hours" and "Beverly Hills Cop" films.
Whether or not Eddie Murphy and Tom Shadyac's rendition of "The Nutty Professor" is superior to the Jerry Lewis directed film is up to debate. They are both showcases for the physical comedy talents of each actor and their ability to play a wide array of characters. Lewis was the 1963 film's good doctor, Professor Julius Kelp and the Hyde-like alternate ego, Buddy Love. His third role in that film was that of Baby Kelp. Murphy was both the good doctor and the bad influence, but also Lance Perkins, Cletus ‘Papa' Klump, Anna Pearl ‘Mama' Jensen Klump, Ida Mae ‘Granny' Jensen and Ernie Klump, Sr. All of the Klump roles portrayed by Murphy interacted together during a pair of dinner scenes that featured the older Klumps taking turns insulting poor overweight Sherman.
The general plot of "The Nutty Professor" is relatively unchanged from the original film. Lewis was an overly nerdy fellow who had trouble with the ladies. Murphy is an overly fat and nerdy fellow who has trouble with the ladies. The bumbling Professor is a joke about campus, as his hamsters routinely escape and invade the campus grounds and his fat belly erases every word he writes on the chalkboard. Klump is working on a formula with dietary effects and after meeting the incredibly gorgeous Professor Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett Smith), he decides to imbibe his own formula in an attempt to quickly lose weight and gain her favor. The side effects are far more severe than he would have ever anticipated and he instantly becomes the chiseled and fit Buddy Love. Instantaneous weight loss is not the only effect of the formula; testosterone levels are off the charts and Buddy Love is an egotistical monster who just wants to get into the pants of Ms. Purty.
"The Nutty Professor" is a comedic retelling of the near ancient story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. About the only frightening thing about this film are a few of the jokes that fall flat or the horrendous fit of laughter that Buddy Love puts himself into to insult a vulgar comedian in the film, portrayed by Dave Chappelle. The plot for the film is not very deep, and most of the film's story is designed to provide Eddie Murphy with as much opportunity as possible to ham it up in fat suits or as Buddy Love. Now at over eleven years old, the visual effects of "The Nutty Professor" still holds up and the true redeeming quality of "The Nutty Professor" is the efforts the now family friendly comedian to portray a large number of characters. I still prefer Axel Foley over Sherman Klump, but Murphy has had great success in appealing to a wider audience.
I have yet to see the recent and heavily maligned "Norbit," but from what I've heard thus far, "The Nutty Professor" is a far superior film. I'll be the judge of this comparison myself in about a month when the film debuts on DVD and the high definition formats, but "The Nutty Professor" has sparked my interest enough to want to see the recent film. "The Nutty Professor" will never make it onto anybody's top ten lists. It is more of a guilty pleasure than it is a respected film. Eddie Murphy has proved again and again that he is a versatile comedian and "The Nutty Professor" was one of his first successful ventures that helped him break out of the typecast he was cornered into after "48 Hrs." and "Beverly Hills Cop." It's not a great film, but it has some great laughs.
Universal is at the front of a very large assault on the HD-DVD market. They have over a hundred films currently schedule for release on the new format and "The Nutty Professor" is among the first waves of this massive set of releases. What borders on unusual is the fact that a few of these catalog releases have been bare-bones HD-DVD only titles. Previously, the studio has released such titles as Combo-Format titles that had a flip side that is compatible with most DVD players. "The Nutty Professor" is one of the newer HD-DVD only catalog titles. It features a decent looking menu featuring Sherman Klump and not the bland background accompanied only by title. The 1.85:1 widescreen image beautifully fills the screen with a colorful and nicely detailed picture. I have previously reviewed the catalog title "The Jerk" and can safely say that this is a far superior release. Aside from the vivid colors and high level of detail, "The Nutty Professor" has deep blacks and better than average handling of shadows. The image is quite clear and I don't recall any specific flaws as a result of either the source materials or the VC-1 digital compression.
"The Nutty Professor" comes packed with an English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Soundtrack and an equivalent French track. Both languages are supported with subtitles. The sound quality of "The Nutty Professor" is just as clear and clean as the visual presentation and although the sound experience is generally contained within the front listening space, the rears are used for a few nice audible effects and songs from the film's soundtrack. The .1 LFE channel is deep with bass and the rumbles are felt when Buddy Love starts to feel Sherman Klump coming on. A couple overly-heavy footsteps are also driven home by the subwoofer. Dialogue is clean and intelligible. "The Nutty Professor" may be an eleven year old catalog title, but DVD and Dolby Digital have been around since it was first released on DVD, so it is no surprise that the films sounds pretty good in 5.1 surround.
My two standard definition DVD releases of "The Nutty Professor" are packed full of supplements. Oddly, "The Nutty Professor" is completely devoid of any of the previous bits of value added content. Universal has only included their bookmark capabilities to the HD-DVD release. I must admit that I'm puzzled by their decision to not port any of the older supplements over to the newer disc and I am hoping that this is not a trend that will follow suit in the coming months when Universal is pumping out dozens and dozens of HD-DVD titles. I can understand their push to fully support the format and they should be commended for being the sole major studio to only support the format, but they need to make these releases at least the equivalent of the older titles. Otherwise, who is going to want to pay to upgrade a catalog title for just picture quality?
Eddie Murphy is great as the seven characters he portrays in the film. Only Buddy Love features Murphy without heavy makeup. The other six characters are hidden under fat suits, bald caps, wigs or other prosthetics to nearly hide his identity. I have recently made my case that Murphy deserved a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in "Dreamgirls" and sooner or later, I hope the Academy awards him for his lifelong excellence of making his audience laugh. "The Nutty Professor" is not one of his best films, but it is an excellent showcase for what he is capable of and it was the first time he put his foot into the waters of family friendly entertainment (I am not counting "The Golden Child." The HD-DVD features a fine looking high definition transfer with sharp visuals and good sounding audio. Sadly, there are no extras whatsoever and I hope this is not a trend of dark days ahead. The film has been released a number of times on SD-DVD, so it is hard to imagine that fans do not already have the film in their collections. To upgrade to the HD-DVD will require fans to keep hold of their older releases for the supplemental materials. It does look good though.