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Brilliant and obese scientist Sherman Klump invents a miraculous weight-loss solution. After a date with chemistry student Carla Purty goes badly, a depressed Klump tries the solution on himself. Though he instantly loses 250 pounds, the side effects include a second personality: an obnoxiously self-assertive braggart who calls himself Buddy Love. Buddy proves to be more popular than Sherman, but his arrogance and bad behavior quickly spiral out of control. Written by
The theme of each of us harboring a darker side, just aching to get out and cause mischief, is an old one, but it truly flowered as literature in the age of Freud. Never before had our animal impulses been so -- well, repressed. The legs of easy chairs and sofas were dressed with tiny floor-length skirts. "Legs" were impolite, replaced by "limbs." A "bull" was "a gentleman cow." Virgins could be easily seduced because they didn't know the mechanics of what was going on. Chicken parts became "white meat" and "dark meat" instead of you-know-whats. Stevenson's Jeykll and Hyde were a perfect expression of this duality, the contrast between what we were and what we pretended to be. The theme has been enduringly popular because, to some extent, it's still an appropriate way to interpret culture. And it's also a flexible theme, one that can be changed to suit the times. If Stevenson's story was about sex (as was Wilde's "Portrait of Dorian Gray") then Jerry Lewis's 1963 movie, of which this is a remake, was about subservient conformity. This one is about physical fitness and narcissism.
Never in my life would I have dreamed that someone could remake a Jerry Lewis movie that made Lewis's humor seem subtly elegant, but Murphy has managed to do it. Eddie Murphy's movie is often extremely funny but about as understated as a train wreck. I think the word to describe the hilarious dinner scenes that depend on open flatulence is "raunch." I don't know why we find it funny when someone farts. There are cultures, like the Samoans, in which it is taken for granted as an ordinary biological act and receives no more attention than a sneeze does in our culture. Murphy's entire movie is about at that level of raunchiness, outdoing Lina Wertmuller's "Seven Beauties," which has a corpse farting, outdoing Chaucer -- outdoing everybody.
Murphy has a fantasy in which he is taken to the ER, filled up with gas, and the staff are unable to stop his body from balooning. He swells to a monstrous size, enveloping one of the doctors the way an amoeba absorbs a food particle, smashes upward through the building, strides gigantically through the city streets while people scream and run, reaches a hand through the upper-floor window of a hotel towards Jada Pinkett the way King Kong did with Fay Wray, reaches PAST Pinkett, and two huge sausage-like fingers delicately pluck the leg from a roast chicken next to Pinkett's bed. But that's not enough gigantism. Murphy gives this blimplike figure a spasm of intestinal gas which is released through the streets at hurricane force. A bum tries to strike a match and light a cigarette. The city is vaporized by an explosion the size of a nuclear bomb's. Okay, that's all. I think I'll quit while I'm ahead, something Murphy chose not to do.
Sherman Klump, the fat man and the central figure, is a likable character. One of the reasons for this is that he is one of the few actors who isn't constantly screaming with rage or laughter. He speaks quietly and it's a relief, what with all the bedlam around him. But it's more than that. Murphy actually brings pathos to the role, and without Disneyesque condescension. What I mean is, Murphy ACTS for a change instead of being Murphy. (He doesn't bring much to the alter ego, Buddy Love, except even more Murphy than we're used to.) There is a scene in which Sherman Klump brings his date -- his first date -- to a nightclub and the comic begins insulting Klump because of his weight. Klump goes along with it genially at first but as the comic continues, relentlessly, humiliatingly, Klump's accomodating smile fades and is replaced with an almost infinitely sad resignation. (He's been here before.) He does well by the character in other scenes too.
The subtext is disturbing. I don't know if Murphy realized exactly what he was getting hold of. Smokers having become pariahs, soundly trounced, insulted, and penalized for their weakness, we've been seeking other targets and the searchlight has fallen on the obese, the out of shape. "I can't help it," said the Chairman of a sociology department, "but when I see somebody who is overweight I just think of him as weak." (That's a sociologist talking.) Insurance payments are higher for the overweight. Some airlines now charge double the usual fare because fat people make their seatmates uncomfortable. I've seen bumper stickers in California: "No Fat Chicks," and a red circle with a diagonal stripe drawn through the silhouette of an overweight woman. I won't go into the many studies that have emerged from social psychology in the last decade or so, showing the social handicaps suffered by the overweight. I doubt that Murphy intended this movie to be so, but it is a stinging critique of our pitiless society as well as a very funny movie.
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