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''Nutty Professor II: The Klumps'' tops the box office

Eddie Murphy scores his biggest opening weekend ever

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Eddie Murphy, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps

When Eddie Murphy stars in a movie, few doubt that its earnings will be as big as Sherman Klump. Indeed, ”Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” topped the box office this weekend with a plus-size $42.7 million gross that will surely add pounds to the comedian’s heavyweight Hollywood status. The sequel to the 1996 hit is Murphy’s best opening yet, surpassing both the original ”Nutty” ($25.4 million) and his 1987 Memorial Day weekend smash ”Beverly Hills Cop 2” ($33 million).

Not surprisingly, Universal execs — ecstatic about their first box office success since ”U-571” opened way back in April — credited ”The Klumps”’ whopping take to its star, saying that female audiences in particular are drawn to Murphy. ”Women love him,” distribution prez Nikki Rocco said simply. Nevertheless, next week’s three big openers — ”Coyote Ugly,” ”Hollow Man,” and ”Space Cowboys” — should have something for everyone, making it tough for the comic chameleon to continue to post whopping numbers.

Despite Murphy’s mega-opener, the overall box office performance slumped a bit this week, and overall totals are down 15.5 percent from the same time last year, according to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. While the Michelle Pfeiffer/ Harrison Ford thriller ”What Lies Beneath” (No. 2) held strong with a $22 million take, the once superpowered ”X-Men” (No. 3) took a steep 51 percent drop in its third week, scoring only $11 mil at the box office. Keenen Ivory Wayans’ frightfully successful ”Scary Movie” held the No. 4 spot with $8.1 million in ticket sales, bringing its 24-day total to $131.9 million. ”The Perfect Storm” (No. 5) stayed the course, soaking up another $7 million.

CRITICAL MASS Sure, Eddie Murphy scored big at the box office this weekend, but here’s the real shocker: EW.com’s voters liked ”The Nutty Professor II” even less than the usually unforgiving critics. Overall, readers graded the film a humdrum C+, much lower than the critic’s average of B. Universal execs may have been on to something when they said women liked the film, though: Females gave the movie a B-, compared to males, who lowered the average with an overall grade of C. But among EW.com voters, it was the under 29 crowd who delivered the kindest score of B.

While some 44 percent of voters said Eddie Murphy drew them to see ”The Klumps” this weekend, those high expectations may ultimately pull the film’s critical mass grades down. A sizable 51 percent said that the comedy was worse than they expected — which doesn’t bode well for Murphy’s longterm reign at the top. Only 36 percent of voters said that they will recommend the movie to friends, and a measly 26 percent indicated that they would return to theaters to see the flick again. Hey, maybe Murphy should try dreaming up a character for someone else to play for once.

To vote on these and other current movies, visit our Critical Mass Movie Poll.

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