The Nutty Professor

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The remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis comedy is not the most extreme, but perhaps the most literal illustration of the prevailing bigger-is-better philosophy. More exactly, fatter-is-better. Rather than depend on the rigors of performance, Eddie Murphy depends instead on a ton of foam-rubber latex as well as on a fantasy scene of King Kong proportions — and that's before his Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation from blubbery campus chemist to sleek streetwise scamp. Murphy, even at this late date, is not incapable of performance, and as proof he comes up with an assortment of funny voices for the hero's roomful of corpulent relatives, all played by Murphy himself under different depths of disguise. The voices might have been funnier, though, if we were not distracted by the continuous search to "find" the actor inside the padding. (We have to take it on faith that he's in there somewhere.) They would most certainly have been funnier if they had funny things to say. Closer, however, to the crux of the matter: what sense does it make, if such a question might be raised, to start off with an alien persona and then to bring out by artificial means Murphy's familiar one? Where's the surprise, the revelation, the discovery in that? What, to put it another way, is the relevance of fat and thin to Eddie Murphy? And lastly, is it only a coincidence that Jerry Lewis's best movie is also the one that means the most? (Gee. A comedy that means. What a concept!) The remake, directed by Tom Shadyac, piles on the makeup over a vacant emotional core, as if to conceal a mere and minor blemish. Thicker-is-better. (1996) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG-13 | 1 hour, 35 minutes
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