Skip to main content /SHOWBIZ /SHOWBIZ

Technically brilliant, but too frenzied

Review: 'Monkeybone' mostly unfunny and grotesque

Review: 'Monkeybone' mostly unfunny and grotesque

In this story:

Pelted with action figures

Few laughs


(CNN) -- "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.

Brendan Fraser is Stu Miley, a kind-hearted cartoonist who wrecks his car and falls into a coma, just as his ultimate creation, Monkeybone, is set to become a cash-cow TV series. Monkeybone is a heckling simian who shrieks and hops around like Roger Rabbit squared. He's more or less an animated representation of Stu's id.

Stu's coma is especially unfortunate because he was ready to propose to his girlfriend, Julie (Bridget Fonda), when the lights went out. Julie remains loyal, praying for Stu to snap out of it before his uncaring sister (Megan Mullally) pulls the plug.

But that's just a prelude to the real action, which takes place in a netherworld called Downtown. At this point, viewers with pacemakers would be well advised to leap up and run out of the theater.

Pelted with action figures

When Stu's consciousness awakens in Downtown, you suddenly feel like a team of 9-year-olds is pelting you with their favorite action figures. If you've seen "The Nightmare Before Christmas" or "James and the Giant Peach," you're familiar with director Henry Selick's work -- but those movies are strolls in the park compared to Downtown.

Downtown looks like a mile-a-minute amalgamation of "Pee Wee's Playhouse," Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," the afterlife scenes in "Beetlejuice," the cantina scene in "Star Wars," and an especially infantile episode of "Laugh-In." There's a whole lot to look at, and very little chance to properly take it all in. By the time your eyes lock on one unfortunate creature, another five come hopping around the corner.

The assault never lets up. Look -- it's a bunch of pigeons with human heads! Look -- it's a one-eyed man walking on his hands! Look -- it's a lobster with a man's face! Stu stumbles wildly through this mutated carnival, trying to get his bearings. Eventually, he determines that Downtown is a stop-over between heaven and hell, and, for whatever reason, its occupants entertain themselves by watching the nightmares of people back on earth.

None of this makes much sense, but sense isn't the point. Every special effects person in the state of California must have been clamoring to work on this baby. Now you know why latex stocks went through the roof last year.

Movie trailer for 'Monkeybone'

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

Despite stiff competition, Stu's biggest Downtown annoyance is Monkeybone himself (voiced by John Turturro, with the tape speeded up), who's now very real and driving everyone to distraction.

To make a long, absurdist story short, Stu tries to escape Downtown and return to Julie. But Monkeybone steals the required gold pass from the Grim Reaper (Whoopi Goldberg) and re-inhabits Stu's body himself. From there on out, it's Stu acting like a greedy, sexist pig as he humiliates Julie and tries to grab as much money as he can via crass Monkeybone merchandising deals.

Few laughs

Fraser is game for anything, as long as it's not acting like a mature human being. You have to have a lot of confidence to eat cake with your bare hands, swing down from an overhead bed frame as a prelude to sex, or seduce an orangutan in order to get your hands on a flask of potent nightmare juice.

(Never mind what nightmare juice is. Suffice it to say that Monkeybone injects it into scores of Monkeybone dolls, which then expel it on unsuspecting victims and cause them to dream up further entertainment for the monsters who populate Downtown.)

The only laughs generated by this thing -- outside of a few gasp-chuckles at the ungainly Downtown creatures -- come courtesy of "Saturday Night Live"'s Chris Kattan, as a gymnast with a badly broken neck who springs off the autopsy table and runs through the streets when Stu's spirit takes over his body. Kattan pulls off moments of physical comedy that would do Steve Martin proud.

It's a long slog getting there, though, and you may be too frazzled to focus by the time he shows up.

"Monkeybone" is surprisingly grotesque for a PG-13 picture and will likely scare the hell out of younger children. There are references to sex and bodily functions, and Kattan's kidneys and stomach fall out as he runs around like a crazy person. There are also some nightmare sequences that would give Salvador Dali the willies. Remember when people used to like Fred Astaire movies?

See related sites about Entertainment
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top