Thursday, February 22, 2001
There's nothing worse than a comedy that isn't funny. At least if a drama is bad, it's possible to derive some enjoyment by making fun of it. But a bad comedy is just grating, like someone screaming in your ear for two hours.
In "Monkeybone," the screamer in question is director Henry Selick, who previously made two much better films, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach." In both of those movies, Selick's gift for creating elaborate, imaginative stop-motion effects was combined with producer Tim Burton's playfully twisted sense of humor. If only Selick hadn't tried to strike out on his own. "Monkeybone" has the visual style down pat, but everything else is irritating, stupid, and worst of all, unfunny.
Brendan Fraser plays Stu Miley, an unassuming cartoonist whose creation, the mischievous primate Monkeybone, is on the verge of becoming a huge hit. Stu is uncomfortable with fame and fortune, however, and would much rather live quietly with his girlfriend, Julie (Bridget Fonda), a sleep researcher who helped him create Monkeybone as a way to deal with his chronic nightmares.
A bad accident puts Stu in a coma, and he finds himself stuck in a sort of limbo world, where other unconscious victims wait to either wake up or die. They're surrounded by visions from their nightmares, and Stu has to deal with, among other things, the supremely annoying Monkeybone, who refuses to leave him alone. Turns out there's a diabolical reason for the monkey's interest in his "boss" ï¿½ he's involved in a plot to take over Stu's body and create more juicy bad dreams.
It's quite possible that "Dark Town," the graphic novel on which this movie is based, is actually amusing and interesting. If that's the case, then its fans should find Selick and screenwriter Sam Hamm and string them up. The film's so-called humor might appeal to a third-grader, although most of it is too raunchy to be appropriate for that age group. At one point, a comparison is made to "South Park," which provides the biggest laugh in the movie ï¿½ on their best day, the people who made this couldn't hold a candle to Cartman and Co.
Fraser is a great (and usually underappreciated) comic actor, but after this and "Bedazzled," it may be time to get a new agent. He certainly has the skill to pull off the physical comedy, and he comes perilously close to making some scenes actually funny. Fonda, on the other hand, is only expected to look pretty, which isn't exactly a stretch for her, but it's too bad she isn't getting better scripts. Like everyone else in this film, she's capable of stellar work (witness her performance in "Jackie Brown"), but she may as well be made of cardboard for this role.
At least she isn't humiliated the way some of her co-stars are. The movie is packed with talented TV veterans like Megan Mulalley ("Will & Grace"), David Foley ("Newsradio"), and SNL vet Chris Kattan, and they are all uniformly wasted. Foley, as Stu's smarmy agent, starts out just fine, but he ends up running around naked with purple gunk on his face, yelling nonsense at the camera. The only person who emerges relatively unscathed is Whoopi Goldberg (as Death), who is obviously very bored, and therefore less likely to embarrass herself.
Selick clearly has no idea what he's doing unless he has bizarre animated characters to work with, and the movie comes alive during the earliest of those scenes. After a while, though, even they start to become pointless and repetitive. About halfway through the movie it becomes clear that Stu isn't the only one living in the Land of Nightmares: The audience is trapped there, too.