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Simple Simian: 'Monkeybone' Slips on a Thousand Banana Peels and Can't Get Up

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2001


    'Monkeybone' Don't you know he's gotta stop the monkey? Brendan Fraser, right, and Giancarlo Esposito star in the bizarre "Monkeybone."
(20th Century Fox)
"Monkeybone," a dizzy, wildly uneven comedy, chronicles the half-witted misadventures of Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser), a cartoonist who falls into a coma and becomes trapped in a carnivalesque purgatory overrun by his worst fears. Not the least of these is Whoopi Goldberg as Death, a crass she-demon who consigns souls to Heaven or Hell via butt-kick.

Fraser, yet again playing a hapless lummox, seems to grow more childlike with every new role. It's as if he really didn't watch out for that tree in "George of the Jungle." If anybody's in a coma, it's probably his agent. Too bad, because as the actor demonstrated in "Gods and Monsters," he's got range.

He's back to his Bambified ways as Stu, who is on top of the world when the story begins. He has just sold an animated series about Monkeybone, a randy simian, to the Comedy Channel and is about to propose to his sweetheart, Julie (Bridget Fonda), when he's knocked on the head in a freak car accident.

While Stu vegetates, his soul boards a rickety roller coaster bound for Downtown, a gaudy underworld fantasy realm where a ruling menagerie of monsters produces and broadcasts bad dreams. Visiting souls are expected to come up with scary scenarios for the nightly series, but Stu's nightmares are unacceptably cheery.

Hypnos (Giancarlo Esposito), the satyric god of sleep and CEO of Bad Dream-TV, decides to give Stu more inspiration and sends Monkeybone (voiced by John Turturro) back to the real world to commandeer Stu's body. Julie is overjoyed at his recovery, but then he starts making flatulence jokes and swinging from the bedposts. Worst of all, he sells out, agreeing to McMerchandise Monkeybone. Not that the little fellow makes the ideal kiddie-meal giveaway. Like the movie, the cartoon character alternates between wacky and horny. When he's not stealing bananas, he's watching monkey pornography.

Director Henry Selick("The Nightmare Before Christmas") and screenwriter Sam Hamm ("Batman") couldn't seem to decide whether they were making a movie for teens or for toddlers, an animated frolic or a romantic comedy. So they made both with a side trip into pop psychodramedy (see, Monkeybone is Stu's alter ego). The result is a script so needlessly complicated that it defies comprehension.

Selick, a devotee of stop-action animation, earned his credentialsin the weird and wonderful "Nightmare," but he doesn't seem to have learned anything about storytelling or character development. And hoo-boy, does he ever suffer from a lack of imagination: The citizens of Downtown bear a striking resemblance to the habitues of the "Star Wars" cabaret.

Chris Kattan ("Saturday Night Live") is the highlight of the movie, a stitch as an organ donor who wakes up on the autopsy table. Otherwise, Fraser doesn't have much help from the supporting cast -- or his co-star, for that matter. Fonda, poor dear, spends most of her time sitting at her love's bedside, fretting over his sister's plan to pull Stu's plug. Not such a bad idea, really.

Monkeybone(87 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for coarse humor and sexual innuendo.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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