Before every movie shown in Greater Los Angeles movie theatres, a
commercial for the _Los_Angeles_Times_ plays. One such ad from a few
years back featured well-known effects creator Rick Baker and, as the
centerpiece of the spot, one of Baker's creations: a high-tech gorilla
suit about as lifelike as any you'd find in a costume shop.
Watching the update of the 1949 RKO Picture _Mighty_Joe_Young_, I was
often reminded of this spot, and it's not because the titular gorilla was
(coincidentally) designed by Baker. Much like that ad of years ago, the
intent of _Joe_ is to make the audience marvel at the wonder of Hollywood
special effects--and instead ends up failing miserably. Years may have
passed, but Baker's gorilla effects are only slightly more convincing,
which means that they are still laughably phony-looking (and, as such,
compulsively watchable for the wrong reasons).
This should spell complete disaster for _Joe_, which is, after all, the
tale of a gentle giant gorilla who yearns to roam free. But the film's
nearly two-hour running time is given some substance by the
flesh-and-blood actors (who, I must say, deserve better than this film).
Charlize Theron plays Jill Young, the surrogate mother to the big ape,
and she is able to make the audience feel and understand her affection
for Joe, even if we don't have much for him ourselves. Bill Paxton gives
a likable, low-key performance as zoologist Gregg O'Hara, who "rescues"
Joe from his poacher-infested home in the African jungle and places him
in a Southern California-based wildlife preserve, where Joe gets antsy.
But the cast nor Ron Underwood's brisk direction can mask the clunkiness
of Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner's script, which has a poacher (Rade
Serbedzija) following Joe to the States to settle a personal score with
the furry guy (Joe bit off the poacher's thumb and index finger years
ago). As hard-to-swallow as that plot contrivance is, it's nothing
compared to the insulting climax. I won't spoil it, but never have I
seen such a large group of generous individuals gathered in one place.
Still, the many children in the audience with whom I saw the film oohed
and aahed at all the right moments, completely enthralled by Joe's
destructive--but never overly violent--antics. The same will probably be
the case in theatres showing _Mighty_Joe_Young_; it is sure to please its
target audience of kids. It's just that the filmmakers forgot about the
adults who pay to bring that target audience to the multiplex. Chances
are that they, too, will end up marvelling at how not-so-marvelous those
gorilla effects are.