March 1, 2001

Monkey Wrench

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Everybody’s heard that old adage, “given eternity, a thousand monkeys sitting at a thousand typewriters will eventually reproduce the great literary works of William Shakespeare.” It’s more likely, however, that they’ll churn out crap like Henry Selick’s latest offering, Monkeybone.

Based on the small press comic Dark Town by Kaja Blackley, Monkeybone revolves around cartoonist Stu Miley, played by Brendan Fraser. Stu is on the verge of fame and fortune as his creation, an animated primate named Monkeybone, has been picked up for a TV series. But then Stu slips into a coma after a car accident and ends up in a place called “Downtown,” populated by other coma victims and run by living nightmares. To Stu’s surprise and annoyance, Monkeybone turns out to be one of these nightmare inhabitants. Monkeybone offers to help Stu escape Downtown and return to his body.

After various visually disturbing noir stop-motion animated scenes, Monkeybone tricks Stu and takes over Stu’s body. Monkeybone proceeds to hit on anything that’s female and moves, including Stu’s girlfriend Julie (Bridget Fonda).

If there’s one truth that Hollywood can teach us, it’s this: when you want funny, turn to monkeys. They’re like little people who scratch themselves in public and fling their feces around– sort of like drunken frat boys, only smarter. Yet somehow, the writers of Monkeybone have found a way to foul up what should be a given and create an unfunny monkey.

But even if they had made a funny monkey, the writers of Monkeybone also seem to have forgotten that while monkeys might make for good cheap physical humor, they do not make a good movie. Monkeys are a start, but a good movie also requires other certain key items. Small things, like character development, good pacing and a flow between scenes that makes sense to people who aren’t tripping acid.

However, the main problem with Monkeybone is that it feels like it’s two films smashed together to create a horrible, freakish mutant movie. The first half plays like an attempt at stylish dark comedy like Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. The second half, with Monkeybone in charge of Stu’s body, focuses on wacky physical slapstick. The end result is a disjointed and woefully underdeveloped film.

The movie ends with Stu’s manager (Dave Foley) imploring the audience to “take off their clothes.” This is followed by a low-quality animated sequence where various partygoers remove their clothing and skin to reveal that they’re actually monkeys underneath. It doesn’t take a psych major to figure out that Selick is suggesting we need to shed our inhibitions and let our internal “monkeys” out. If that’s what he was aiming for, he should have just made a porno flick and billed it as such. The audience probably would have enjoyed the movie more, and parents wouldn’t have made the mistake of bringing their kids to it.

Archived article by Matt Chock