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Missing the Funny Bone

By Michael O'Sullivan
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)
Talk about cutting to the chase: The first few minutes of "Monkeybone" cover, oh, about three months. Admittedly, the main character is in a coma, but still . . .

Okay. So nobody will accuse the comedic mix of stop-motion animation and live action of being poky. Coming to you, as the ads tout, "from the director of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'" (quick, how many of you came up with the name "Henry Selick?") and, like that earlier film, laden with impressive special effects, "Monkeybone" pretty much must dispense with such narrative niceties as character development and emotional complexity just to keep up with the frenzied pace and Byzantine plot.

When we first meet hero Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser), the struggling cartoonist is being feted for having just sold his creation, a randy comic-strip alter-ego named Monkeybone (voiced by John Turturro), to the cable-based Comedy Channel. Only moments later, Stu is lying in a hospital bed, unconscious from a bump to his noggin incurred when a prototype piece of tie-in merchandise goes haywire in his car.

While comatose, Stu (the Stu that lives in Stu's head) encounters a demimonde populated by folks just like him: that is, people waiting to either come out of comas or to be called to the Great Beyond. Stu, naturally, hopes to get one of the coveted exit passes occasionally handed out by Death (Whoopi Goldberg), but in the meantime he must endure the torments of a 3-D version of his cartoon counterpart, an annoyingly smart-mouthed, libidinous simian in a purple fez and brocade vest. See, it's kind of a left-brain, right-brain thing. Inside Stu, it turns out, live Stu and Monkeybone, a conscious ego and a subconscious id who gives uncensored life to his mellow other half's basest impulses. (He also gives the cast plenty of opportunity to utter smutty innuendo such as one about "choking the monkey," but that's another story.)

Back in the land of the living (or at least the semi-conscious), 90 days have passed in the twinkling of an eye and Stu's uncompassionate sister Kimmy (Megan Mullally, mining her best "Will and Grace" hauteur) has decided to pull the plug on little bro. Meanwhile, Stu's girlfriend and almost fiancé Julie (Bridget Fonda), a sleep researcher who's also his former therapist (don't ask), decides to inject her beloved with Oneirix, a form of concentrated "nightmare juice" designed to scare him awake. Unfortunately, the part of Stu that surfaces from the chemical jolt is Monkeybone and, believe me, this ain't his better half.

True to his crass nature, Stu/Monkeybone now spends most of his time feeding his face and making the beast with two backs with Julie while the repressed Stu/Stu, trapped in a limbo between sleep and the afterlife, must try to strike a deal with Death that would allow him to return briefly to earth to save his beloved from a relationship with the wrong man.

Enter Chris Kattan, the gifted physical comedian known to viewers of "Saturday Night Live" as the recurring character of Mango the male stripper. The preternaturally limber Kattan plays a very dead gymnast whose body, fresh from organ donation and rotting like a piece of roadkill, gets borrowed by Stu (or Stu's soul), who hopes to warn Julie before monkeyboy can propose on his own.

While the film's no slouch in the speed department, it's not until here that "Monkeybone" finds its real comic stride, as the manic Kattan rushes á la Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate" to stop a match made in hell.

Is it funny? Fitfully, but not consistently enough to justify the 25 weeks of post-production that went into making "Monkeybone's" animated ape come to life.

The real star of the movie is not Brendan Fraser or even the orange puppet who plays his character's evil twin, but the filmmaking technology that made their coexistence possible.

Although "Monkeybone" will undoubtedly make you laugh at its slapstick highjinks, the irony is that for a movie that's ultimately about soul, that's the one commodity that's in precious short supply up on the screen.

"Monkeybone" (PG-13, 87) – Contains an oversexed animated monkey, a man's naked derriere, risqué double entendres, human organ harvesting and a "Wild Kingdom"-style shot of copulating primates.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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