He's cute. He's cuddly. He's a klepto.
Eva is a lonely little girl who longs for a pet. Whenever she broaches the subject with her parents however, she gets grief from her newly married Mom instead of parental love, understanding, and support. Seems that step dad's Claritin D bill would bankrupt the family should she decide to infest the household with feline or fox fur. But as with most cases of instant karma, a new two legged friend drops into Eva's lap while she's walking home from school (and it's not the local park pervert). It's a monkey, all cute, corny, and cuddly in his parasite-ridden randiness. Knowing that the introduction of a miniature dominant male into her homo sapiens homestead would cause the random "marking" of territory, she secrets the small wonder in her back pack, hides it in her room and teaches it to use the toilet and eat underdone poultry. And it's not long before Dodger is scanning Eva's head for chiggers and undermining the cause of simian equal rights worldwide by crapping in the sink. But that's not all. Turns out that Dodger has been trained by previous owner, slimy gypsy Shorty Kohn (not to be confused with Short Round or Sammy Kahn) to steal. And wouldn't you know it, the Mafia has discontinued its practice of using hired muscle or professional thieves on their big burglary jobs. Instead they wish to employ Shorty and his small-brained mammal to do their dirty work. Not that anyone could tell the difference, honestly. So as our gypsy tramps around town looking for his tiny thief, Eva must rehabilitate Dodger, less his larceny lead to worse criminal behavior, like carjacking or file swapping.
There is a potentially great movie buried deep inside the mediocrity that is Monkey Trouble. Any film with a cute, human acting capuchin has got potential. Let's face it, monkeys both as a concept, and in practice, sell tickets. Slap a goofy grinning chimp on any marquee, or promise an ornery orangutan as your superstar's sidekick, and BINGO! Instant boffo box office! Films like Ed, Going Ape, and Robinson Crusoe on Mars have shown that, when it comes to securing the financial well being of a major studio, or propelling an actor or director's career into the stratosphere, adding a little ape is just the ticket. And it's easy to comprehend why. Monkeys are cool. Monkeys are the stuff dreams are made of. Monkeys rock the vote. Monkeys be bad! It's incredibly entertaining to watch these little mini people run, jump, eat, wave, smile, read, write, explain the artistic significance of Francis Bacon, or reflect on the concept of the null set while simultaneously de-lousing each other. Oh sure, they occasionally fling their poo and touch themselves at inappropriate times (like elementary school field trips), but the minute they do their evolutionary mirror trick and recreate civilized behavior, we are willing to shake their prehensile tail and stuff bits of fruit into their pie holes. Yes, for every Mojo from The Simpsons or Cornelius from Planet Of The Apes, there's a Dunston, or a Roberto Begnini, but the cinema de simian has been a veritable wellspring of memorable films and monkey movie stars. That is, until Monkey Trouble came along.
Part of the problem with Monkey Trouble is that it has no faith in its premise. Okay, so Dodger has coveting issues. He's got sticky little opposable thumbs. Let's face it, the monkey likes to steal. Can't we just leave it at that? Stupid suits in Hollywood shout "NOOOO!" There needs to be conflict. There needs to be menace (as if the notion of a near genetically identical two-foot person sleeping on the top of your head would not be disconcerting enough). Nope, we need to make sure that the little thief was abused by a creepy gypsy, who apparently taught the ape everything about mugging via intensive behavior modification: the monkey pilfers or the black toothed troll would exhale all over him. Add to this the notion that our rag-headed crumb bum living in a decrepit trailer that would make guests of The Jerry Springer Show nauseous. Then, we have to include the mandatory broken home, so that the cheated chimp has not only lost his dignity (and sense of smell) at the hands of the greedy greaseball, but his family and friends too. And then we have to involve the mafia into all of this, threatening to have our genetic cousin swapping calzone recipes with Lucca Brazzi if he doesn't pull off a caper for them. All of this background and foreground and senseless surround steals the movie away from its main, simple pleasure: watching a monkey mess around. If the film had been two hours of our flea covered hero scratching his rear or addressing the UN, it would have been a classic for the ages. As its stands now, there's too much monkeyshines, and not enough pure monkey enjoyment to even care.
There is a disturbing trend starting here with New Line and their "kid oriented" titles. Upon placing the DVD in the machine and hitting start, the screen comes alive with cartoon chimp capering and superimposed images of our film's hairy hero flailing about. Every screen, every menu option, every frame is filled to the skull short circuiting brim with some manner of busy eye candy…that adds nothing. There are no hidden features, no tricks or secrets, just lots of cornea corroding craziness. It even applies to the borderline hard sell promotion Pick a Flick game, that requires an intimate knowledge of most of New Line's DVD catalog to play along with. Here, as elsewhere, the screen is alive with a deranged digital light show. Image wise, New Line makes a more mature decision. There is an option to view the film in either widescreen or full. The choice here is simple, since under the full screen framing the monkey disappears out of frame all the time and key scenes of ape antics are missed. Stick with the letterbox. Both images are fantastic though, sharp and defect free. And the Dolby Digital Surround in either 5.1 or stereo is excellent, allowing us to hear all the wonderful chimp noises in a totally immersive environment. But when a 90-minute movie offers less than ten minutes of total monkey goodness, there is a flaw in the filmmaking from which the film's enjoyment and entertainment factors can never recover. While Monkey Trouble is an acceptable, pleasing diversion for both young and old, its significant lack of multiple major monkey moments will fail to satiate those who consider themselves completely ape addicted. For that lot, the long wait before The Rock's next starring feature will be that much more painful.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Pick a Flick Interactive Game
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