“The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps”
Give Eddie an inch and he’ll take a mile. Remaking “The Nutty Professor” seemed like a smart idea creatively and financially, and it resulted in one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest and most well-liked hits. However, Murphy and his producers eventually realized that the audience responded strongest to the brief segments where Murphy played each member of the corpulent Klump family, and didn’t seem to realize that less was more. So began this spinoff sequel, which takes most of the focus off Murphy’s shy, overweight Sherman Klump and puts it instead on his flatulent brood. 'The Klumps' ends up being a flimsy excuse to continue this series, using Sherman’s new youth potion to allow the family members to go off on their own adventures while all sense and narrative cohesion goes out the window. 'The Klumps' is a textbook lazy sequel, not even beginning to come up with an excuse for how Sherman is now dating Janet Jackson’s fellow scientist without explaining what happened to the first film’s romantic pursuit (Jada Pinkett Smith). The over-reliance on painful slapstick, aided by the outlandish makeup on each member of the Klumps, led the film to become an item of mockery, even savagely skewered by a fake trailer in “Tropic Thunder” promising a similar film called, “The Fatties Fart Two.”
Expectations could not have been higher for this follow-up to the 1984 comedy classic, but could anyone have expected the picture would be so openly opportunistic? “Ghostbusters II” opens with a complete retconning of the first film, where the citywide heroes have now been reduced to urban legends, sued for the property damage and reducing them to performing at birthday parties. This artificial story block is a transparent attempt to prolong what is essentially a one-film story, forcing the characters, who spent the first film establishing themselves, to have to prove their bonafides once again even if we know of what they’re capable. The film makes a spirited go of it in topping Zool from the first film, this time matching the ‘busters against the mighty Vigo, an ancient wizard who speaks to his minions through a painting. But it’s all mostly an exercise in brand extension, to the point where the Ghostbusters’ own logo inside the film mirrors the image in advertisements, featuring a ghost smiling and holding up two fingers, though what this signifies inside the film doesn’t seem clear. The new uniforms and proton pack modifications also seem overly toyetic, a tactic that promises double the amount of toys and merchandise sold, but matters very little to the story. And sorry, Bobby Brown, but your tunes are no match for Ray Parker Jr.’s classic Huey Lewis-jacking theme.
The Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams wisely jumped ship after “Airplane!” leaving the job of essaying the sequel to Ken Finkleman, who previously picked up some sloppy seconds by writing “Grease 2.” And the secondhand nature of the film seems to be no secret, as the rhythm and vibe that buoyed the first film just seems off. The humor here zings with more of a tacky Borscht Belt zaniness than the smart genre inversion of the first film, placing importance on adding the jokes into a story framework rather than creating an amusing, layered storyline. Back are star-crossed lovers Ted (Robert Hays) and Elanie (Julie Hagerty) but the picture’s manner of bringing them back together is a distraction due to a combination of being absurd and, intentionally, not a joke. It almost feels as if while “Airplane!” was a mockery of films like “Zero Hour!” “Airplane II” feels like one of those scripts of that era, retrofitted to allow for gags in between its ante-upping story involving a space shuttle launch in an attempt to outdo the original picture. Most of “Airplane II” seems to have no clue as to why audiences enjoyed the first film; the rest of it just feels like plane-related gags rejected from the first film for being too obvious.
If there’s any film that seems completely contradictory to its own title, it’s this square, lame, years-too-late follow-up to “Get Shorty.” Based on the book by Elmore Leonard, and filled with what feels like an accurate amount of side-characters and digressions, “Be Cool” is like a workshop in how one director (the first film’s Barry Sonnenfeld) understands comedy, while the other (F. Gary Gray pinch-hitting) just assumes it will all add up in post-production. The film now follows former mobster turned Hollywood producer Chili Palmer (a no-longer-hungry John Travolta) as he attempts to break into the music industry, slowly realizing it’s a similarly back-biting world of treachery and double-cross. Part of “Be Cool” is hindered by the restrictions of the PG-13 rating, pulling back where the first film could be fierce and filthy with language. Another is that the milieu seems far less attractive that the first film, with Palmer’s ingenue played by a charisma-less Christina Milian, destined to bellow shallow torch songs that the movie pretends are actually meaningful. “Be Cool” has a loaded cast of home run hitters, but most of them come across like they’re hamming it up in a “Saturday Night Live” skit; only Dwayne Johnson retains his dignity in a surprisingly-nuanced turn as a bodyguard who seeks stardom. But once he flashes The Rock’s signature eyebrow curl, it’s clear that “Be Cool” wants to insincerely make fun of the industry, but it also secretly loves it.
The excitement had reached fever peak as the second “Austin Powers” approached, as the first one had quietly become one of the most quoted films of its era despite a middling theatrical run. Credit the ad campaign, which memorably mocked “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace” while also, coincidentally, piggybacking on the resulting publicity of mocking George Lucas’ baby. Audiences were also primed for Mini-Me, an inspired-seeming creation that would follow Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil and silently mimic his behavior, an absurdist conceit that recalled Myers’ gonzo “Sprockets” sketches on “Saturday Night Live.” Unfortunately, the end product simply revealed what we knew all along: that the “Austin Powers” concept could barely hold up for half a movie, let alone the eventual trilogy. The gag of the first film was that the sixties were a “groovy” time for backwards politics, unclean living, and uninformed, reckless lifestyles, but the second film merely doubles down on that joke with a trip back to the era, where those gags are magnified and repeated. Varying degrees of repetition here: not only were Myers and director Jay Roach content with recycling the same exact punchlines and catch-phrases from the first film, but Myers readily plucked from his body of work on “Saturday Night Live,” revealing the one-time Peter Sellers wannabe as a guy with very little in his toolbox.