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SF Films in Review — Friday 23 February 2001


Monkeybone

Directed by Henry Selick
Written by Sam Hamm, based on the novel Dark Town by Kaja Blackley
Starring Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg
Released by 20th Century Fox

Review Grades

source, reviewer actual score grade*
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert * 1/2 D
CNN, Paul Tatara   D
LAT, Kevin Thomas   A-
Mr. Showbiz, Cody Clark 42/100 D
NYT, A.O. Scott   B+
Salon, Charles Taylor   A
Slate, David Edelstein [commentary]    
WP, Rita Kempley   C+
* Assigned by Locus Online as subjective summary of each review

Excerpts

Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert

The movie labors hard, the special effects are admirable, no expense has been spared, and yet the movie never takes off; it's a bright idea the filmmakers were unable to breathe life into.

CNN, Paul Tatara

"Monkeybone" is one of those newfangled production design monstrosities that grabs you by the collar in the first ten minutes, then shakes you around like a rag doll until you're ready to drop. Rest assured that there are people out there who will view this as "entertainment." If, however, you normally operate within the realm of sanity, you'll feel like you're mainlining espresso in the middle of oncoming traffic.

LAT, Kevin Thomas

The way "Monkeybone" plays out is wacky and inspired. The film is baldly, wildly Freudian, if you care to look at it that way, but you're never hit over the head with these implications. The film is content to present an incredible journey of the imagination, darkly humorous and zesty in spirit--a love story with a transcendence set off by knockabout physical comedy instead of the usual shameless heart-tugging.

Mr. Showbiz, Cody Clark

Alas, at every point at which there appears to have been a decision required between character-driven comedy and cheap laughs, Monkeybone opts for the latter. The effect — almost certainly intentional — is that a movie interesting enough in its conception to appeal to adults winds up being best suited to preadolescent sensibilities (and attention spans).

NYT, A.O. Scott

To declare Henry Selick's "Monkeybone" the best comedy of 2001 would be to smear it with the faintest of praise. ... Though it seems, by default, to be aiming for the youth market, its ideal audience may be children who have had Freud's "Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis" read to them at bedtime. It's a movie about sublimation, neurosis and bad dreams. ... Sure, "Monkeybone" is a bit of a mess. But the unconscious is by definition a disorderly place, which few movies explore with such mischievous insight. Imagine if Luis Bu˝uel had returned from the grave and hooked up with the Farrelly brothers, with access to $50 million worth of foam rubber and modeling clay. That's what dreams are made of.

Salon, Charles Taylor

"Monkeybone" is a giddy madcap classic, one of the wildest and funniest American comedies in years. ... Unfortunately, Twentieth Century Fox is doing what it can to keep the movie under wraps...

The first half of the movie is such a sustained feat of imaginatively ghoulish wit that when Monkeybone returns to Earth, waking Stu from his coma and taking over his body, I kept waiting for the movie to go splat. That it doesn't is a tribute to both Hamm and Selick's sure fix on their material and also to Brendan Fraser. ...

Even if "Monkeybone" could count on studio support, a comic-book movie aimed at grown-ups is always a tough sell. Adults seeing the ads or hearing the title may assume it's juvenile junk and stay away. And though kids may get some laughs, it's really not directed at them. The sources of the movie's humor are comic books and scatological jokes. But the subject is sexual anxiety, career anxiety, the enticements of freedom vs. the pleasures of commitment, the tradeoffs you make for success and the question of how much of yourself you should put into your work.

Slate, David Edelstein

Although the script was explosively funny, a rough cut I watched on video in October (after I did a Q and A with Hamm at the Virginia Film Festival) convinced me that the director, Henry Selick, had botched the job beyond salvation. I still think Selick has an anti-talent for directing actors and no clue how to tell a story visually. But the Monkeybone that I saw on WednesdayŚnoodled with, trimmed, pepped up with a jolly funhouse score by Anne DudleyŚleft me agog and exhilarated. This might even be some kind of nutbrain classic.

WP, Rita Kempley

Director Henry Selick("The Nightmare Before Christmas") and screenwriter Sam Hamm ("Batman") couldn't seem to decide whether they were making a movie for teens or for toddlers, an animated frolic or a romantic comedy. So they made both with a side trip into pop psychodramedy (see, Monkeybone is Stu's alter ego). The result is a script so needlessly complicated that it defies comprehension.


© 2001 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.