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Review: Stealing an Italian beauty in 'B. Monkey'

October 5, 1999
Web posted at: 4:19 p.m. EST (2019 GMT)

By Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- In case you're wondering, Michael Radford's 1998 "B. Monkey" is a sexy but unconvincing noir exercise, and not the virus-ridden simian picture the title suggests.

Asia Argento, daughter of Italian horror film director Dario Argento, stars as Beatrice. She's a big-eyed, voluptuous cat burglar who's nicknamed B. Monkey because she's so good at getting into places inaccessible to anyone else.

As the film opens, Beatrice is trying to retire from the business. But her partners in crime, Paul and Bruno (Rupert Everett and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), don't believe she's capable of giving it up.

Theatrical preview for "B. Monkey"
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Bruno is a coke-snorting gay rock 'n' roller, and Paul is a droll drug dealer who has sampled way too much of his own product. Everett reeks of elegant depravity, and his willingness to smirk through the most horrendous situations is a welcome relief from the somewhat self-serious nature of the rest of the film.

Rhys-Meyers isn't as lucky; the often clichéd script forces him to rely on profanities and hip-hugging pants to establish a character. He also pouts rather invitingly, but Rhys-Meyers always pouts invitingly. He forever seems to be playing the lead singer of a British synth band.

Going straight

Beatrice washes the color out of her crayon-red hair and gets a job shifting papers in a quiet British office. Soon, she finds herself being pursued by Alan (Jared Harris), a timid elementary schoolteacher who's also a nighttime disc jockey at a jazz radio station.

It takes a few dates for Beatrice to actually fall in love with Alan, but it's a miracle that they fall in love at all. Beatrice is as overtly sexual as Alan is withdrawn; she's forever ripping her outfits off and climbing on top of him the minute they're behind closed doors. She's so enthusiastic he actually gets spooked and falls impotent during their first lovemaking sessions.

Alan is tranquil to the point of inertia, but he has impeccable taste in music -- the superb soundtrack is full of classic bebop and Django Reinhardt recordings -- and he treats his lover with tenderness. Beatrice, as much as she cares about Alan, still itches for the adrenaline rush provided by criminal activity. She's straddling two worlds, and has to decide which one holds her true fate.

That may not be terribly original material, but you can still make an interesting film out of it. The story's central failing is that Beatrice never seems particularly thrilled with either of her lives. And, again, it's unlikely she could fall for Alan; Harris' performance is about as mysterious as his beige corduroy jacket. It's like watching Sophia Loren go gaga over David Hyde Pierce.

Going naked

Fans of beautiful naked Italian women (raise your hand) should go home happy, though. Argento slings off her clothes so often, you'd think she was allergic to her detergent.



She's something of a star in Italy, and if it weren't for the trouble she has speaking the English language, she'd probably be one in the United States, too. Her character and Harris' are eventually drawn into a violent ending reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah's macho-silly "Straw Dogs" (1971).

You can see the conclusion coming about 30 minutes into the picture. But even with all the film's problems, Argento's charisma keeps things relatively interesting for lengthy stretches of time. She even manages to generate a few sparks when she's fully clad.

"B. Monkey" contains numerous F-words -- usually shouted -- as well as violence, drug use and, of course, nudity. Brilliant marketing idea: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers wax lips. Rated R. 90 minutes.

Official 'B. Monkey' site
Miramax Films
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