The Nutty Professor gives Murphy a rare comic opportunity to exorcise the vain, vulgar Buddy Love he became post-Saturday Night Live in misogynous movies (Boomerang) and gay-bashing concerts (Raw) done with an attitude that suggested his fans would lap up whatever sour swill he doled out. The downward trajectory of his career proved him wrong.
Murphy teases the hell out of his old bad habits in The Nutty Professor, and as long as he does so, the movie provides enough pointed humor to warrant a comeback. Eddie Murphy is funny again. Sadly, he lacks the guts to follow through on the cathartic self-satire that gives the film its distinction. He cops out behind the latex haven of Rick Baker's amazing fat makeup. Unlike Lewis, who saw himself in the nerdy nonentity of a professor, Murphy has yet to be taken for a sweet, shy blimp.
For Murphy, the film's fat jokes are safe jokes. "I'm fattered, I mean flattered," says Sherman after being complimented by teacher Carla Purdy (Jada Pinkett). When comic Reggie Warrington (David Chappelle) disses Sherman at a club, the "he ate Jimmy Hoffa" gags are no skin off slim Murphy. And when he dons more latex and other voices to play five obese members of Sherman's family, including two women, the occasion is one for chubby japes and marathon farting, not character revelation. Only when Murphy stops skewering the compulsive overeater in his nutty professor and targets the sexist pig does the film hit home.
Maybe Murphy thinks he needs a touch of the bastard in his own character to fire his humor. Maybe Lewis does, too. The veteran comic was reportedly "Machiavellian" when selling the rights to the remake. For his part, Murphy, 35, told a nonplused David Letterman that he never talked to Lewis about the film because "the guy's old; he's in his 70s. What would I say?" Buddy Love dies hard.