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A big, hairy flop

Review: Monkey see, monkey run from 'Apes'

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By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- "Planet Of The Apes" is one gigantic hairball that could gag -- well -- an ape.

The film's star, Mark Wahlberg, was reportedly so excited about the prospect of working with director Tim Burton that he signed on before there was a finished script. Note to Wahlberg: always wait for the script before signing on the dotted line. Filmmaking is all about telling a story, and ever since "The Jazz Singer," it all begins with the written word. If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage, and a bad script equals a bad movie.

And this is one really bad script.

It's a shame, because visually the film is astounding. Burton's bold style and unique point of view are front and center. Yet "Apes" is a classic example of "all dressed up with nowhere to go." Production designer Rick Heinrichs, who won an Oscar for Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" (1999), and costume designer Colleen Atwood, Oscar-nominated for the same film, create a wondrous world of jungles and deserts where apes rule over humans. Six-time Academy Award-winner Rick Baker has done it again with his stunning makeup skills. The apes are frighteningly realistic. Unfortunately, that reality only underlines the weakness of the script.

No way with words

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Mark Wahlberg and Tim Roth star in Tim Burton's 'Planet of the Apes' (July 24)

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CNN reviewers Paul Travers and Lisa Schwarzbaum have mixed reactions to Tim Burton's reimagining of the science fiction tale (July 26)

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    Stupid, cheesy, idiotic lines drip from the lips of every single actor -- ape and human. At one point an orangutan, played by Paul Giamatti, actually utters the line "Can't we all just get along?" Rodney King should sue. Another simpering female chimp laments that she's "having a bad hair day," as she pats her coif. These comments -- along with many others -- cross that fine line between laughing with a character and laughing at one. And consider these other memorable lines: "Look!" "Run!" and "Follow me!"

    All right, action movies aren't known for their intellectually insightful use of language, but they usually reach beyond the level of "See. See Jane. See Jane run." This script by William Broyles Jr. ("Cast Away," 2000), and Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal ("Mighty Joe Young," 1998), is ludicrous. Three minutes after the opening credits roll, you'll know you're in trouble: See. See audience. See audience run.

    There is a plot, more or less. The year is 2029 and the crew of a space station -- floating somewhere out in the universe -- is working with intellectually enhanced primates. Wahlberg plays Captain Leo Davidson, a frustrated space jockey who's been reduced to sending out chimpanzees in tiny space pods to perform experiments. Of course, one of the cute little chimps gets lost in a electronic space storm. After uttering the profound line "Never send a monkey to do a man's job," Captain Leo launches himself in another pod in order to save the day.

    Before you can say "I'll be a monkey's uncle" (hey, screenwriters aren't the only ones who can recycle old cheesy lines), Leo is also caught in the storm and crash-lands on a mysterious planet. Suddenly dirty, hairy humans are racing past him, chased by leather-clad, hairy apes. Quickly figuring out that he's "not in Kansas anymore" (sorry, I can't help it), he and the other humans are captured and sold to a human slave trader.

    Among his fellow H. sapiens prisoners are Karubi (Kris Kristofferson, looking as if he were picked up off the street and thrown into this moronic mess) and his daughter Daena (played by newcomer Estella Warren, who appears to be doing an impression of Rachel Welch's debut performance in 1966's "One Million Years B.C.").

    A waste of fine actors

    Adding insult to injury, the actors playing the apes not only have to speak the same kind of ridiculous lines, they also spent four hours a day in makeup for the privilege.

    Carter
    Helena Bonham Carter, left, plays "Ari," a human rights activist who tries to save humans  

    Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter gives her best as Ari, a human rights activist who attempts to save the bedraggled humans. Tim Roth chews the scenery as Thade, the militaristic villain who, despite his soft spot for Ari, is single-minded in his quest to destroy all humans. Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Green Mile," 1999) portrays Attar, a silverback gorilla, who just follows orders.

    Charlton Heston offers unintentional comic relief as Thade's dying father. In a scene dripping with irony, the NRA president shows Thade an ancient handgun made by man before the apes were in charge and explains that this type of technology is why mankind should never be allowed to rule the planet again.

    "I warn you, their [man's] ingenuity goes hand in hand with their cruelty," he says. "No creature is as devious or violent." In other words, guns don't kill people, people kill people.

    The battle scenes are terrific; too bad they're in this movie. Meanwhile, the relationship between human and ape makes no sense. In the original "Planet of the Apes," the humans had lost the ability to talk, had been reduced to mere scavengers, and were presumed to be a lower species by their ape rulers. In this "re-imagining" of that film, the people can talk, organize and live in large groups. Despite these obvious social skills -- not to mention having opposable thumbs -- the humans are still treated like vermin and killed at random. They're considered valuable property, yet in the next scene they're lunchmeat.

    Of course, nothing in "Planet Of The Apes" makes any sense. Realistic motivations are nonexistent, and the ending -- if you're still in the theater -- is idiotic in its desperate attempt to setup a sequel. Wahlberg never utters a word in the final scene. He just stands there and stares in total disbelief.

    He's not alone.

    "Planet Of The Apes" opens nationwide on Friday, July 27, and is rated PG-13.







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