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'Nutty' and naughty

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


NEW RELEASES

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (PG-13)

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[Photo: Universal Studio]
Meet the Murphys, er, the Klumps, in Nutty Professor II.

Eddie Murphy mugs and morphs his way through seven characters in the sequel to his 1996 career comeback film. Most of all, he's Sherman Klump, an enormously likable scientist whose latest project is a youth serum. His research is disrupted by his eccentric family members (each played by Murphy), especially Granny Klump, whose libido far exceeds her age.

Sherman's alter ego, Buddy Love (also Murphy) materializes to interfere with Sherman's girlfriend (Janet Jackson), and a giant hamster figures hilariously into the mix. That gag is just one of numerous tasteless jokes on display, making this a questionable choice for younger viewers, despite the PG-13 rating. Sex and bodily functions are common punchlines.

First impressions: "Murphy . . . buoys his portrayals with so much good-natured fun, bawdy humor and sentimentality that viewers are likely to (feel) genuine affection for these folks . . . director Peter Segal (My Fellow Americans, Tommy Boy) . . . smartly upped the ante, giving loads of well-used screen time to Granny and the others.

"The payoff is substantial: The second Nutty Professor is consistently funnier than the first, and it all but assures a third installment in a franchise that ought to remind Murphy naysayers about the, uh, heft of the guy's comic talents. Props, too, ought to go to Rick Baker, the veteran makeup wizard responsible for the star's remarkable, seamless transformations.

"Nearly all the elements stick together as they should . . . (keeping) the gross-out humor just this side of truly obnoxious and repulsive (unlike, say, the kind of jokes spewed in Scary Movie and Me, Myself and Irene). This is that rarest of sequels, one that builds on the potential of the first and leaves us wanting more." (Phillip Booth, St. Petersburg Times correspondent)

Second thoughts: What he said.

Rental audience: Murphy fans.

Rent it if you enjoy: The Nutty Professor (Murphy's or Jerry Lewis' version); Big Momma's House.

Gone in Sixty Seconds (PG-13)

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[Photo: Touchstone Pictures.]
Angelina Jolie and Nicolas Cage star in Gone in Sixty Seconds.
Nicolas Cage plays Memphis Raines, a legendary car thief pulled out of retirement in order to save his brother (Giovanni Ribisi). The assignment: Steal 50 expensive automobiles within 72 hours for a dangerous smuggler. Raines enlists his former lover (Angelina Jolie), a motorhead coot (Robert Duvall) and assorted comic relief to pull off the heist.

Director Dominic Sena (Kalifornia) plays it loud and hectic in this remake of the 1974 car-chase classic Gone in 60 Seconds, reviewed here last week for its DVD debut. The film follows the usual blueprint for producer Jerry Bruckheimer's films, such as Con Air and Armageddon. Unlike those movies, though, this one isn't much fun.

First impressions: "The remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is superior to its 1974 inspiration in every way except the one that counts most: collisions. Sure, Cage is a better actor than the late H.B. Halicki, who produced, directed and starred in the original. High-tech larceny is cooler to watch than smash-and-grab tactics. Bruckheimer has much deeper pockets, buying quality Halicki couldn't afford, like a real script.

"What Halicki did have, however, was a tank full of audacity, something the 2000 model misses. For all of its zippy editing and booming sound effects, the new Gone in Sixty Seconds always seems to be running under a yellow caution flag . . . a precision movie machine, right down to its cliched fate for the bad guy, and the cheery ending.

"Bruckheimer's formula is intact: wry anti-hero, colorful accomplices, impossible mission and lots of noise. The mechanics are flawless. It's Rosenberg's script that never gains velocity. Nothing that a few more thrilling chases couldn't overcome."

Second thoughts: Revisiting Halicki's film on DVD lowered my respect for the remake even more.

Rental audience: Folks who like seeing things smashed up.

Rent it if you enjoy: Cutting to the chase in films like Bullitt, The French Connection and Vanishing Point.

DVDs: 'Gettysburg' thoroughly revisited

Gettysburg Special Edition

Writer-director Ronald F. Maxwell did a studious job in 1993 converting the late Michael Shaara's book The Killer Angels to the screen. So studious, in fact, that it was better suited as an audio-visual aid for American history class than movie entertainment.

With that possibly in mind, the DVD presentation of this Civil War seminar is loaded with extras amplifying the technical and strategic obsessions of the film. Maxwell, as expected, provides an alternate audio track explaining his creative decisions. But, he's joined by two impressive academics: Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson (1978's Elbow Room) and military historian Craig Symonds.

Their insights are bolstered by battlefield maps to help viewers trace the action and two documentaries: The Making of Gettysburg, narrated by co-star Martin Sheen, and The Battle of Gettysburg, a 1955 Oscar nominee narrated by Leslie Nielsen (when he was still a serious actor).

A theatrical trailer and biographies of a lengthy cast of actors round out this letterboxed edition.

For Civil War buffs, the film and its DVD bonuses should be interesting. Maxwell's film may not have as much immediate appeal for casual observers.

Gettysburg includes some wonderful, if overlong, battle sequences and a strong performance by Jeff Daniels as reluctant Union commander Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Despite its epic aspirations, Gettysburg doesn't possess the dramatic sweep or eye-popping visuals we expect from films in that category. Every shot has been framed to fit on television, befitting its production for Ted Turner's TNT cable channel.

Chamberlain is the best role Daniels has played, a reluctant commander whose troops defended the critical position of Little Round Top, an elevated area in the Pennsylvania woods. Daniels perfectly captures Chamberlain's sense of fear and duty, with a sad irony making us ache for him in this hellish situation. Gettysburg could have used more of this sort of personal touch.

The battle sequences drag on much too long. It simply isn't cinematically stimulating to repeatedly watch soldiers march in formation and fall in a hail of bullets or make a trampoline leap to simulate cannonball impacts. Only in the stunning Little Round Top sequence and the final battle does the fighting convey any scope or tension. Yet they're violent and noisy enough to make a viewer shell-shocked by the end credits.

-- STEVE PERSALL

Rewind: Remembering John Lennon

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[Photo: Miramax Films]
From left, George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney star in A Hard Day’s Night.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of John Lennon's murder in New York City by Mark David Chapman. Hundreds of fans will gather at Strawberry Fields, a garden memorial in Central Park across from the Dakota apartment building where Lennon lived and died.

The rest of us can gather around a television set and celebrate Lennon's music, wit and iconoclastic verve with any of these favorites:

A Hard Day's Night -- Richard Lester's pseudo-documentary of the Beatles' first trip to the United States is marvelous fun, and Lennon made his mark as a deadpan prankster with little respect for anyone in authority. Great songs and electrifying set pieces have been spruced up for a recent home video reissue.

Help -- Goofier than A Hard Day's Night, but the music and Lennon's personality still shine through. Ringo Starr becomes a target for human sacrifice, and the Beatles sing their way out of the jam.

How I Won the War -- Lennon shows his acting chops as a British soldier during World War II. No singing, but his snarky personality lent an anti-Vietnam slant to the film Lester didn't intend.

Magical Mystery Tour -- The Beatles started getting trippy with this British TV special, long unavailable in the United States. It's essentially an MTV video for the album of the same name, but what a great album. P.S.: The Walrus is John.

Yellow Submarine -- Another Beatles hit recently remastered for home video. The band, in animated form, battles the Blue Meanies with love, love, love. Speaking voices were dubbed and the Beatles appear only briefly, but the songs endure.

Let It Be -- An epitaph for a rock 'n' roll legend. Nobody realized this recording session documentary would be the last time the Beatles would perform together. They passed the audition.

Imagine -- Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, co-directed this obtuse documentary of their political feelings. Too much Yoko, of course, but it's interesting to watch a legend in what amounted to self-exile.

The Compleat Beatles -- Mostly interviews with folks who knew the band, like keyboardist Billy Preston, producer George Martin and singer Marianne Faithfull. Still, a comprehensive history of the band full of archival footage and trivia.

-- STEVE PERSALL

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