Certain media watchdogs may take Eddie Murphy to task for the socially uncouth (but lovable) characters he reprises so successfully in "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." The list of the offended might include organizations bent on protecting the public images of the obese, the elderly, the sexually overactive and those who suffer from chronic flatulence.
To their potential criticisms, I have a ready retort: Loosen up. Relax. And grab another handful of popcorn. There's so much good-natured fun, bawdy humor and sentimentality to Murphy's portrayals of bumbling biology professor Sherman Klump and five other members of his always-hungry, constantly wisecracking family that viewers are likely to go home feeling genuine affection for these folks.
The Klumps made their debut during an unforgettable dinner-table sequence in "The Nutty Professor," the immensely likable 1996 remake of the classic Jerry Lewis vehicle. For the sequel, Murphy, director Peter Segal ("My Fellow Americans," "Tommy Boy") and their screenwriting team have smartly upped the ante, giving loads of well-used screen time to the Klump clan.
After all, it's downright difficult to resist Sherman's charms as the mild-mannered genius and perennial lonely heart declares his love for a pretty colleague, Denise Gaines (Janet Jackson), with the help of a Mariachi band -- and later, some useful fireflies. His relatives are equally appealing: Mama is proud-to-bursting of her boy, always ready to clap in delight and shout his name in appreciation of his talents. Brother Ernie is constantly on the make, but far more interested in grabbing that last piece of chicken. Papa, the king of the home-colon-cleansing procedure, at one point morphs into a younger, slimmer, leisure-suited ladies' man. And he's constantly trading comic death threats with Granny, the family's relentlessly rude matriarch, who's given to spouting sexually graphic observations at the most inopportune moments.
"Isaac's still like a Brahmin bull when it comes to relations," Granny boasts about her wizened lover during a slapstick restaurant outing.
The second "Nutty" is consistently funnier than the first, and a welcome reminder of the, uh, heft of Murphy's comedic talents. This time out, Sherman is on the verge of yet another earth-shaking scientific discovery: a veritable fountain-of-youth potion that promises to turn back time for anyone who swallows it. The experiment has already worked on a friendly beagle and a particularly randy hamster. (The latter creature later displays its memorable wrath in a scary incident that's partially reminiscent of '50s schlock sci-fi.)
Smarmy, sarcastic Dean Richmond (Larry Miller, perfectly cast) is again ready to help Spellman College reap the benefits of the find. A pharmaceutical company is prepared to give the school $150 million in exchange for the formula. The transaction is slated to be televised live during a press conference.
But first, the shy biology professor has some issues to deal with, from the smothering love of his family to his inability to make a connection with Denise (ably portrayed by pop star Jackson, last seen on the big screen in 1993's "Poetic Justice"). Denise is full of admiration for Sherman's brains and kindness, but she may not be as enamored of his girth.
Even worse is the reappearance of Buddy Love, the trim, suave sex machine Sherman created in the first film when he attempted to chemically shed his unwanted flab. A residual amount of Love's raunch and mean spirit remains in his inventor's body; during a riotous dream sequence that opens the movie, the little devil literally rears his ugly head from the professor's groin. Thanks to a laboratory accident, Love finally makes a full reemergence. His nasty plans threaten to destroy the pharmaceutical contract and void Sherman's suddenly blooming romance.
Buddy's negative qualities, however, don't deter the excitable Granny from putting the moves on him. Their encounters (both real and imagined) are among the film's most raucous.
Nearly all of "Nutty Professor II's" elements stick together as they should. Murphy shines and the comedy clicks contagiously, thanks to a decent script and smart pacing. The gross-out gags don't wander into the realm of the truly obnoxious and/or repulsive (unlike the brand of humor spewed in Scary Movie and Me, Myself and Irene). Kudos, too, go to Rick Baker, the veteran makeup wizard who's responsible for the star's remarkable, seamless transformations.
Oddly enough, the filmmakers feel the need to toss in overt references to "Star Wars," "Armageddon" and "Flubber." Though extraneous, that material hardly detracts from the movie. "The Klumps" is the rarest of sequels, one that builds on the potential of its predecessor yet simultaneously leaves us wanting more. How often can you say that about a movie with Roman numerals in its title?