Snobbish underestimates of Ronald Reagan almost always invoke "Bedtime for Bonzo," an amilable little comedy hit of 1951 about a college professor and his wife testing a theory about the importance of environmental conditioning by trying to raise a chimpanzee as if he were their child. "Bonzo" not only had its clever aspects but remains a disarming minor entertainment.
It you're really keen to feel insulted by a movie comedy dealing with the trials and tribulations of domesticating apes, try "Going Ape!," a farce of truly relentless inanity now at area theaters. Compared to this, "Bonzo" was sheer elegance, a modern classic of drawing room comedy.
"Going Ape!" was written and directed by Jeremy Joe Kronsberg, the original screenwriter on the Clint Eastwood hit, "Every Which Way But Loose." The revelation of that movie was, of course, Eastwoods's orangutan sidekick Clyde, the most effective simian comedian since Bonzo himself. The association with Clyde's trainer, Bobby Berosini, evidently inflamed Kronsberg with the idea of contriving a movie around several orangutans, and "Going Ape!" is the result.
There ought to be a likeable juvenile entertainment in the premise of "Going Ape!" Tony Danza of the "Taxi" series is cast as a young man who inherits a fortune from his father, an eccentric circus performer and impresario, who makes the inheritance contingent on the care and feeding of three orangutans. Not for a second does Kronsberg exploit this premise with a humorous awareness of what such an obligation might involve in real life. His comic complications always derive from crass, outlandish calculations.
The young man is introduced as a lower variety of low-life than the movie needs: he's supposedly been scrounging a living mailing slivers of wood to suckers willing to pay for mementoes of The True Cross and Babe Ruth's bat. The first thing he does with the apes upon becoming their guardian is to try to sneak them into his apartment without his manager becoming wise.
The plot conflict is equally ill-considered. If the hero fails, a zoological society will come into the inheritance, so we're obliged to believe that the directors elect to put out a murder contract, hiring a pair of gluttonous gangsters who spend the rest of the movie in laboriously unseccessfly attempts to harm the animals.
There's not even much interaction, humorous or otherwise, between Danza and the orangs, who possess far less personality and performing ability than the phenomenal Clyde by his lonesome. Even the apes are a washout in "Going Ape!"