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Mighty Joe Young

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Mighty Joe Young

Starring: Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron
Director: Ron Underwood
Rated: PG
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genres: Action, Family

*Also starring: Rade Serbedzija, Naveen Andrews

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The title character of "Mighty Joe Young," who could serve as a model for a Rogaine commercial, is handsomer than the Frankenstein monster and is anthropomorphically a more sympathetic individual than Godzilla. With his deep set, expressive brown eyes and tendency to communicate his feelings with them in much way a human being can, Joe is a gorilla that the small fry can care about. It should not be at all surprising that the kids in the audience would scream when poachers threaten to put down the 2,000 pound simian or when the L.A.P.D., in the touchstone standoff with creatures far larger than they, take careful aim with their rifles awaiting the order from the chief to blast off. An update of Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1949 movie , which starred Terry Moore, Ben Johnson and Robert Armstrong--which in turn updated the "King Kong" theme and had comparable special effects--"Mighty Joe Young" suffers from the same agonizing dialogue and repetitive actions. Each time Joe is about to bounce off walls, crush cars, and down the Ferris wheel, he is brought to heel by the soothing voice of the woman who reared him from the time she was 12, after both her mom and Joe's were killed by poachers. Since these counseling sessions occur quite often in the story--in a Los Angeles amusement part, in a metal cage zooming down the California freeways, inside a California conservatory and in the Botswana bush--the recapitulation can become annoying. But since Joe's stepmom, Jill (Charlize Theron) is the most beautiful actress that Hollywood now boasts--even better looking than the stepmom who has eyes for Ed Harris--you don't mind the redundancies too much.

A thoroughly predictable fable that uses convincing computer graphics and other special effects to portray the title figure, "Mighty Joe Young" opens in Botswana where Dr. Ruth Young (Linda Purl), a Dian Fossey type who is studying gorilla protocol while caring for her 12-year-old daughter Jill (Mika Boorem), is killed while trying to protect her hirsute buddies from the unlawful activities of poachers. Having evoked a promise from her daughter to carry on the work, she leaves Jill to tend to the clan, and, twelve years later, the 24-year-old woman (Charlize Theron) realizes that she can no longer protect her large monkeys from the illegal activities of the hunters. Convinced by eccentric researcher Greg O'Hara (Bill Paxton) to transport Joe to a California conservatory, she allows Joe to be captured and travels with him and Greg to the states. While in the conservatory, Joe is confronted by poachers Strasser (Rade Sherbedgia) and his accomplice Garth (Peter Firth), the former seeking revenge for losing his thumb to Joe's attack twelve years earlier. Provoked by his old enemy, Joe Young escapes and creates havoc in Hollywood, alternately hiding from helicopters and seeking out a child to save from a collapsing Ferris Wheel.

Bill Paxton is just boyish enough to appeal to the young ones in the audience and while he does not get a chance to act maturely as he did so well in "A Simple Plan," he is just right for the part of a guy who plants the first human kiss on Jill's lips. We even root for him win Jill's affections in the triangular romance plot but at the same time hope that Joe does not get overly jealous that his role is about to be taken over by a human. Director Ron Underwood may have forgone the wit that allowed him to make "Tremors" more than a silly story of worm-like predators in the desert out for Kevin Bacon's hide. But while there are many reasons to be depressed during the holiday season, "Mighty Joe Young" is not one of them.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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