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‘Monkey Trouble’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 18, 1994

"Monkey Trouble," a middling family movie about a thieving organ grinder, his monkey and a poppet in search of a pet, turns out to be a sweet-natured kid-pleaser despite the off-putting presence of Harvey Keitel. The Savage One here plays a grubby Gypsy who attracts the crowds while his crafty capuchin picks their pockets and lifts their jewels. Fed up with a life of crime and his handler's abuse, the little fellow runs away from this Fagin of the Apes.

And darn if he isn't found by Eva (Thora Birch), a rebellious preteen who secretly takes him in because her stepfather (Christopher McDonald) and mother (Mimi Rogers) have said no to a dog. Contrary to her mother's predictions, Eva starts behaving responsibly when she acquires Dodger, whom she conceals in her backpack and room.

The trouble derives from Dodger's ongoing kleptomania, a condition that Eva cures, but not before she's accused of stealing the loot herself. She's ready to tell the truth by then, but it's already too late when the evil organ grinder unintentionally gives her a second chance.

Franco Amurri, who directed and co-wrote this low-budget caper, was inspired by his own little girl's pet pleas. This may explain why Eva -- spunkily played by show biz veteran Birch -- is such a true-to-life heroine. Freed of the usual sugary expectations, Eva is as forthright and daring as any boy.

The parents -- Eva's caring real dad included -- are innocuous but clearly loving, and Eva's classmates are drawn from the rainbow, which only serves to make Keitel's grotesquely played organ grinder all the more appalling. Keitel pantlessly caressing a piano frankly was easier to take than this offensive bandanna-wearing caricature. He's not so much scary as revolting with his gold-capped smile and his long greasy hair. It looks like he's mistaken the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" for the "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific."

"Monkey Trouble" is rated PG for cartoon violence.

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