(On Cable TV, February 2016) It’s movies like The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps that have me wondering whether I’m an unsuspecting alien having trouble understanding humanity. The story of the film has something to do about a scientist inventing a rejuvenating elixir, but never mind the plot: the point of the film is in showing Eddie Murphy plays half a dozen different roles in the same film, even often in the same frame. It doesn’t get more grotesque than seeing Murphy as an elderly woman sexually assaulting Murphy as himself. Oh, wait, it does get more grotesque when a character gets violated by an enlarged sex-crazed hamster. Bestiality and sodomy at once in a kid’s movie—just another day in Hollywood. I’m not saying that The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps is completely bereft of laughs. One or two jokes succeed, and seeing Janet Jackson struggle in such a terrible film almost earns her a sympathy chuckle. The anarchic plot is just a clothesline on which to hang unfunny sketches, and while Murphy occasionally hits a high note, the rest of the film feels too gross to be likable or even tolerable. Never mind my doubts about whether I’m human: The film sinks so low that I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers behind the movie themselves were aliens with only a shaky understanding of human nature.
(On Cable TV, March 2015) For a concentrated dose of nineties ghetto-Los Angeles atmosphere, Poetic Justice is a blast from the past. Starring none other than Janet Jackson (in an iconic performance) and Tupac Shakur (in a pretty good dramatic role), Poetic Justice plays with an unusual structure that marries ghetto drama with a road trip from Los Angeles to Oakland with numerous episodes along the way. There’s a blend of genres and influences that’s hard to describe as romance clashes with comedy (the drive-in film excerpt is hilarious) and straight-up drama. Writer/director John Singleton has made an unusual film here, and it’s that lack of formula that makes it work even more than twenty years later. Part of the film’s eccentricity can be found in the small role given to Maya Angelou (whose poetry makes up a chunk of the film’s narration), but also in an unusually romantic role given to Shakur, who more than honorably performs. The ending could have been a bit stronger, and more continuity in the episodes would have been appreciated, but this is definitely what Singleton wanted to show on-screen, and the off-beat nature of the result speaks for itself.