Lewis has some Buddy Love going on
Whilst Jerry Lewis has had a long and varied career it would be fair to say that he is best known for the comedy partnership he had with Dean Martin and also the movie "The Nutty Professor" which Eddie Murphy based his 1996 movie upon. But I am a little at odds with how I feel about Lewis's "The Nutty Professor" because it was not entirely what I thought it would be. With a story of a science geek whose character transforms when he takes his own experimental formula I had preconceived ideas that it would be a silly, family friendly comedy made to make young children laugh. And to be honest there are aspects of the movie which are geared towards a younger audience with some slapstick comedy but it also feels like Lewis was taking a swipe at Dean Martin with his parody like performance of his old pal. It makes "The Nutty Professor" not so much dark but a movie which seems to change track and become something more adult which gives it a strange mix.
Professor Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) is a geek, a wimpish science teacher who as well as being accident prone is a complete pushover. Despite attempts to man up at the gym Julius decides to become a human guinea pig and takes a secret formula he has created which turns him into the confident, sexy and suave Buddy Love, basically everything he isn't. All is well whilst Julius is Buddy as women swoon when he comes near and everyone likes him even Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens - Girls! Girls! Girls!) who finds him both arrogant and sexy. The trouble is that Julius never knows when the formula will wear off which it often does at the worst possible time.
You have to give Jerry Lewis a lot of credit when it comes to "The Nutty Professor" because not only does he take the central role he also directed and wrote the movie. Of course the storyline is very much a "Jekyll & Hyde" type storyline and reminded me of Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers in "Monkey Business" but it works. There is something amusing about watching the wimpish and geeky Professor Julius Kelp trying to man up by going to the gym before he becomes a human guinea pig. And there is just as much amusement at watching his alter ego Buddy Love take control with his slick, arrogant ways. Of course it is obvious that at some point things will come to a head when Kelp has to admit that he is Love but the journey to that point, with the troubled romance of Stella Purdy and having to attend a college party as both himself and Love is full of fun moments.
But the thing is it feels like "The Nutty Professor" is not quite sure who it wants to appeal to. From the opening scene where we get all the coloured liquids in the test tubes before an experiment goes with a bang through to Kelp's attempts to man up by lifting weights there is a stream of comedy for younger audiences. And whilst it is all a bit stupid and obvious, gags such as Kelp's arms being stretched down to his feet when lifting a barbell is fun for younger audiences. But then once Kelp turns into Buddy Love for the first time the humour seems to change and that simple child comedy for the most disappears.
Instead we get the comedy of Lewis parodying Dean Martin with his creation of Buddy Love as a sleazy, slick, drunk and arrogant lounge lizard which is fun and you can't but help laugh at what appears to be a satirical swipe at his old pal. But the difference in comedy is huge and "The Nutty Professor" turns from being something for children to something for adults who will find the parodying amusing. And this means that "The Nutty Professor" ends up feeling unsure of who its audience is going to be with its diverse range of comedy.
Despite this mixed bag of comedy you can't deny that Jerry Lewis is on fire through out the movie. In the scenes when he is playing Kelp he creates the ultimate science geek, wimpish, bad hair, thick glasses and buck teeth, basically a real pushover but not to be cruel someone you can laugh at and with. But then he is just as good if not better when he turns into Buddy Love and the arrogance oozes from his pores as he swaggers around a nightclub bossing people around like he owned the place. And of course the blend of it as Buddy becomes Julius again as the formula wears off is so much fun especially during the various songs which are all impressive without the added benefit of the comedy. So good is Jerry Lewis that neither Stella Stevens as Stella Purdy or Del Moore as Dr. Hamius R. Warfield make the impact that their supporting characters need.
What this all boils down to is that "The Nutty Professor" is a fun movie and Jerry Lewis shows how good he could be especially when it comes to playing Buddy Love as a parody of Dean Martin. But it seems like "The Nutty Professor" doesn't know who its target market is because whilst there is plenty of innocent childish comedy there is also the more adult parody and it leaves it as a bit of a strange experience, a fun one at that.