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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Monkeybone

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda
Director: Henry Selick
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 87 Minutes
Release Date: February 2001
Genres: Animation, Comedy

*Also starring: Megan Mullally, Dave Foley, Chris Kattan, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Knowles, Rose McGowan, Megan Mullaly

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2 stars out of 4

Another mid-winter week, another throwaway movie. The disposa-flick this time is "Monkeybone," a black comedy that shows what happens when you try to make a Tim Burton film without Tim Burton. Director Henry Selick garnered praise with "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (produced by Burton) and "James and the Giant Peach." He lobs all sorts of eye candy on-screen here, mixing live action, stop motion and computer animation, but his attempts to be rude, raucous and edgy fall flat. Overall, "Monkeybone" is dreary and enervating. In fact, I'm getting drowsy just thinking about it.

Brendan Fraser, who deserves credit for continuing to take chances, plays cartoonist Stu Miley, creator of a hit comic strip featuring Monkeybone, a wise-ass character with about as much charisma as Domino Pizza's wretched puppet, Andy. Everything is coming up roses for Stu. His comic is about to become a network TV series and he's ready to propose to his girlfriend Julie (Bridget Fonda).

Then he gets into an accident and ends up in a coma. His body sinks through the sheets (the niftiest special effect in the movie) and he finds himself in a netherworld called Downtown, a freaky purgatory populated by a wide variety of physically bizarre creatures. Fluff pieces for the film go on and on about how wonderfully imaginative Downtown is, but it looks suspiciously like the post-death waiting room in "Beetlejuice" to me.

In Downtown, Stu negotiates with Death (Whoopi Goldberg), while Monkeybone (voiced by John Turturro) leaps out of his imagination and into computer animated life. To make a long story short (if that is still possible at this point), Monkeybone commandeers Stu's body, returns to the world of the living and raises hell. If Stu is to reclaim his body and corporeal existence, he must pursue him, but what vessel will he use?

Sounds like fun, right? Unfortunately, the very few scenes that actually deliver are smothered by those that do not. The special effects look chintzy, the jokes are lame and most of the talented cast (including Dave Foley, Bob Odenkirk, Megan Mullany and Rose McGowan) appear desperate, bored or confused. How bad is "Monkeybone?" The best performance comes from Chris Kattan. That's how bad "Monkeybone" is.

Note to my regular readers: At this point I have said everything I need to say about "Monkeybone." Normally, a trifle like this would only warrant a capsule review, but the only other film opening wide this Friday, "3000 Miles to Graceland," was not screened in time for my deadline, so I'm stuck. In order to get paid, I must pad this column out by a few hundred more words. I considered filling the space with my favorite recipe for black bean soup, or with a list of the local TV newscasters I would most like to have sex with, but finally decided to just regurgitate behind-the-scenes material from the "Monkeybones" press kit. Unless you're a die-hard fan of useless trivia, I suggest you stop reading this review now and move on to the Personals section, where you just might find the man or woman of your dreams.

"Monkeybones" Fun Facts: The film is based on the first of what was to have been a series of 12 graphic novels called "Dark Town," written by Kaja Blackley and illustrated by Vanessa Chong. The other 11 books were never completed. Selick acquired the rights to the comic and started working on the project with Sam Hamm, who wrote the screenplay for "Batman."

In true Hollywood fashion, the pair soon decided to change the source material, which they described as "ominous and portentous," into a comedy. The Monkeybone creature was not part of the graphic novel. Selick and Hamm created him as the comic relief, but he soon got the title role.

Selick wanted Downtown to look like an amusement park, but feel like a prison, so the designers created a run-down amusement park with all the chains and gears showing. Eighteen weeks were spent creating the forced perspective set, which measured 218 by 120 feet. The "skies" are a layer of muslin backing colored with fluorescent paint and lit with ultraviolet light.

In addition to five stop-motion animated characters, several real humans portrayed Downtown denizens, clad in prosthetics and specially designed costumes. Twenty-seven others had portions of their bodies puppeteered through animatronics. Selick wanted "classical monsters that resemble fallen gods." To my eyes, they still look like "Beetlejuice" rip-offs.

There, that's enough padding. Let's all go on with our lives now and try to forget this unpleasantness ever happened, okay?

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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