'Apes': Not Ready for Primate Time

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2001

OF COURSE, you know there has to be something spooky at the end of Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes." After all, it would be in keeping with the holy-cow conclusion of the original 1968 movie, which starred Charlton Heston. But surely not this ending, which doesn't seem to do much more than set itself up nicely for a sequel.

However, let's not raise the bar too high. This is summer. Sure, Tim Burton's movie is scripted with monkey business and surface flash rather than the kind of classic brilliance (or even logic) that science-fiction buffs and Planet Ape-o-philes would appreciate.

But let's not lift the original movie to the heights of "Citizen Kane," either. And let's think of Burton's "Planet" as a mid-July diversion for the human herds. "Apes" is a spectacle, a chest-thumping "Batman" that uses Danny Elfman music, Burtonesque decor and great makeup effects by Rick Baker to transport you to another world.

It certainly passes the fake monkey-suit test. The apes, chimps and orangutans are authentic and well-constructed. And Baker designs the suits and faces so the actors inside them aren't hampered. And yes, acting is going on, with Helena Bonham Carter particularly effective as Ari, an intelligent ape who provides human astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) with refuge from those pesky primates..

As Captain Davidson, the human who's unwillingly transported from a research spaceship to this inhospitable land of alpha-primates, Wahlberg doesn't have much to do except be physically heroic. I give him a three-banana rating out of a possible bunch of six.

Leo's performing research on chimps in a satellite research station when his vessel comes up against what I can only term a patch of funky time-warp swirls.

To cut an uninteresting, not particularly believable, sequence short, he finds himself crash-landing on a planet. Soon enough, the apes capture him, along with a tribe of tight-lipped human slaves (including a wild-haired Kris Kristofferson), and he catches the eye of Ari, one of those liberal apes you see just about everywhere these days. She escapes with him, attempting to keep a step ahead of Thade (Tim Roth), a heavy breather and soldier who believes all humans should be wiped off the face of the planet and who, absurdly, has the hots for Ari.

Speaking of monkey business, the uncredited Heston participates in a cameo that acknowledges his "Planet" statesmanship and gently spoofs his day job as president of the National Rifle Association.

An aging ape on his deathbed, he introduces his son Thade to a certain weapon favored by the humans, which has a chamber, trigger and bullets and has "the power of a thousand spears."

Cue audience applause – or whatever.

I'm trying, I'm really trying, to keep positive. But the longer I take to review this movie, the more the absurdities loom. So let me finish before I think about the story's stupidly plotted structure or recall how tiring it was to watch apes perpetually pushing humans to the ground or sending them pirouetting into the air. And let me gloss over the movie's unintended howlers, including a triangular jealousy thing among Leo, Ari and a human va-va-voomer named Daena (Estella Warren), who looks like a babe replicant dressed for a Fred Flintstone cartoon. And let me always try to remember: It doesn't take a brain, or even opposable thumbs, to make a summer movie. Just a budget.

PLANET OF THE APES (PG-13, 120 minutes) – Contains violence and inter-species flirtation. Area theaters.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company