Directed by Henry Selick
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, Chris Kattan, Dave Foley, Rose McGowan, Whoopi Goldberg, Giancarlo Esposito, Megan Mullally, Lisa Zane. Voice: John Turturro.
2001 87 minutes
Rated: (for scatological humor).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 24, 2001.
There is a good movie hiding somewhere within "Monkeybone," just breaking to get out. Equipped with an imaginative premise and occasionally eye-popping visuals of a world and creatures that have never been glimpsed before on the silver screen, this otherwordly fantasy should be alive with energy and originality, but it isn't. It is an empty, lethargic slug of a movie that creeps along with several good ideas, but does nothing with them.
Stu Smiley (Brendan Fraser) has created an offbeat cartoon known as "Monkeybone" that has just been picked up by the Comedy Channel. Not really interested in mainstream success, his career is, nonetheless, just about to take off. On his way home from a premiere party with his loving girlfriend, Julie (Bridget Fonda), whom he is about to propose to, they are involved in a freak car accident with an unwieldily balloon that leaves her unharmed, but Stu in a deep coma. From here on, Stu finds himself arriving in a fantasy world known as Downtown, inhabited by creatures big and small, including Monkeybone himself (voiced annoyingly by John Turturro). He soon comes to find that it is a netherworld in which he is to stay in until word comes whether he should be sent to Heaven or Hell, or return to his life and girlfriend. Meanwhile, back on Earth, it has been three months since the accident and Stu is showing no signs of progression. When his older sister, Kimmy (Megan Mullally), decides it is time to pull the plug on him, Julie plots to inject him with "nightmare juice" that she hopes will scare him out of his comatose state.
At just 87 minutes (including opening and ending credits), "Monkeybone" feels like an ambitious film that was destroyed by a directing and editing hack job. While the movie just barely makes sense, it is also clear that large amounts have been cut out, and to lethal effect. In Harry Knowles' scathing review at "Ain't-It-Cool-News," he speaks of how the original screenplay, loosely based on a comic book called "Dark Town," was an extravagant, brilliant piece of originality and wonder, and in the process of getting it to the screen, large amounts were edited out after a shaky test-screening, or never filmed at all, due to budget restraints. Knowing this, it can safely be said that "Monkeybone" may very well have once been a good motion picture, but has, instead, been turned into a lifeless, overblown monstrosity.
While the scenes set in Downtown are, indeed, a visual feast of gorgeous set decoration and production design, they always feel rushed, as we intermittently are taken back to the world of the living to follow Julie's plight. Because of this, there is no rhythm or natural flow to any of it, and its spare parts clank together like pieces of rusted metal. Not only that, but director Henry Selick (who fared much better with 1993's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and is making his live-action debut here) proves to not have a gift with human actors, as none of the characters are the least bit interesting, and hardly any of the actors give inspired performances.
To be fair, no one is given much screen time except for Brendan Fraser (1999's "The Mummy") and Bridget Fonda (1999's "Lake Placid"), but even they seem distant throughout, as if their hearts simply weren't in on this production. Neither is given anything worthwhile to do, and their roles feel painfully rote. All of the other actors just struggle to appear onscreen at all, and each one of them is wasted. There seems to be promise in the friendly relationship between Stu and a half-cat/half-human named Kitty, played by Rose McGowan (2000's "Ready to Rumble"), but something tells me most of her scenes found their way to the cutting room floor. Aside from the humorous initial reaction to see Whoopi Goldberg play Death, she is given nothing to do. The same goes for the highly talented and extremely funny Megan Mullally (TV's "Will & Grace"), who isn't offered one funny line to utter. Only Chris Kattan (TV's "Saturday Night Live"), as a recently deceased runner whose body is inhabited by Stu, stands out from the crowd, and successfully blends both physical comedy and drama. Unfortunately, his screen time is as brief as everyone else's.
"Monkeybone" is a very bad movie, and amazingly so. With a story so fresh and a world so promising, it almost feels as if the results were intentionally botched. Whatever the case may be, the finished product is far more dull and artificial than it has any right to be. It leaves you feeling frustrated and angry at everyone involved in its journey to the screen.
©2001 by Dustin Putman