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
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
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
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