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(2001) (Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After entering a bizarre subconscious world upon falling into a coma, a cartoonist tries to stop his simian cartoon creation that's escaped to the world of the living and now possesses his body.
Stu Miley (BRENDAN FRASER) is a modest cartoonist who's finally achieving success in both his professional and personal life. His ribald comic strip creation, Monkeybone, that features a wisecracking and salacious simian of the same name, is about to become a national TV show, and he's about to propose to his beautiful girlfriend, Julie McElroy (BRIDGET FONDA).

While his manager, Herb (DAVID FOLEY), wants to market the Monkeybone franchise as much as possible, Stu wants to keep things simple. Unfortunately, he doesn't get the chance when a freak accident leaves him in a coma, with his conscious self sinking down into a bizarre world called Downtown, where others exist in an odd, carnival-like way station halfway between the living and death.

While Julie stays by his side and tries to ward off the attempts of Stu's sister, Kimmy (MEGAN MULLALLY), from pulling the plug on him, Stu's subconscious self in Downtown meets the physical incarnation of Monkeybone (voiced by JOHN TURTURRO), an irritating and ever-present monkey who's a constant thorn in his side when not making lewd comments to Kitty (ROSE McGOWAN), a waitress dressed in a cat motif.

Stu also meets Hypnos (GIANCARLO ESPOSITO), the half man, half goat ruler of Downtown, who informs him that the only way out is to travel to the underworld and steal an "exit pass" from none other than Death (WHOOPI GOLDBERG). Stu tries just that, but then learns that Hypnos has enlisted Monkeybone to steal the pass, travel up top and possess Stu's body, and then induce nightmares in the living for the entertainment of those stuck in Downtown. From that point on, and after being placed in the organ donor body of a dead gymnast (CHRIS KATTAN), Stu does what he can to stop his creation from doing all of that.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Humans, being a curious species, have continually explored both their external and internal environs. While the coldness of space and the depths of the oceans are fraught with both incredible discoveries and dangers, it's what goes on inside the human body that's posed the most intrigue throughout time. Although much of the body has been mapped and pretty much figured out, the brain and consciousness have mystified doctors, researchers and philosophers for thousands of years.

No one completely knows how the mind works, and while electrical impulses and chemicals can be measured and observed, no one has really figured out how that turns into thought, emotion and imagination. Nor does anyone completely understand the implications related to what goes on inside the skull to create nightmares, or what happens to it as a result of brain injuries or comas.

While no one will probably ever know what the mind senses, if anything, while in a comatose state, one can hope it's not like the fictional "Downtown" setting of "Monkeybone," stop-motion director Henry Selick's third outing behind the camera. Then again, one can hope that it's also nothing like this film that's clearly so bad that it's likely to cause nightmares for the studio bean counters and those who gave it the green light, not to mention its likelihood of inducing comas or causing serious brain injury for those unfortunate, unlucky or foolish enough to sit through it.

Ranking up there with some of the most amazing cinematic debacles in the history of the cinema, the film is often near unbearably bad in more ways than one. Based on the graphic novel "Dark Town" by Kaja Blackley, the film unwisely follows in the less than esteemed footsteps of 1992's abominable "Cool World" as yet another failed attempt at mixing a live action story and characters with animated ones.

That Gabriel Byrne/Kim Basinger flick was bad enough for shamelessly trying to capitalize on the success of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," but it's not exactly clear what inspired the filmmakers here to put an unimaginative and unsuccessful spin on "World's" story. Yes, they blend stop-motion animation - the same process that made the original King Kong work - rather than that of hand drawn imagery with the live footage, but that alone can neither make nor carry this film.

Whereas "Roger Rabbit" was a terrific and imaginative picture from both a technological and pure entertainment standpoint, this film - written by screenwriter Sam Hamm ("Batman," "Never Cry Wolf") - wastes a charismatic cast, is poorly executed from a storytelling standpoint, and more often than not comes off as excruciatingly bad.

This is one of those expensive looking disasters that probably had some initial potential on the basic plot level, but progressively gets worse and out of control as it unfolds. Beyond the unoriginal story of a cartoon writer meeting and interacting with his creation in a surreal world, the biggest monkey on this film's back is the monkey.

As annoying and fake looking as the simian in the remake of "Lost In Space" - from both a visual standpoint and any physical interaction with its flesh and blood counterparts - Monkeybone the character is easily as obnoxious and mishandled an artificial character as the much hated Jar Jar Binks. While that irritation might be the point as far as this film is concerned, it doesn't make for an entertaining or enjoyable time for the viewer.

When the fake monkey escapes Coma Land and enters the real world, most everyone will probably groan at the thought of what cinematic atrocities the filmmakers have in store for us. Fortunately, they must have sensed that, so the character disappears into the human body of star Brendan Fraser who should immediately fire his agent, manager and/or handlers who are obviously trying to ruin his career.

After establishing himself as an action star in "The Mummy" and a serious thespian in "Gods and Monsters," Fraser then appeared in "Dudley Do-Right" and now this. Boy, talk about the need for a career makeover. Anyway, now "possessed" by the monkey, Fraser's character has to act in nothing short of a ludicrous, cringe-inducing fashion.

While the "fish out of water" prospect of a cartoon monkey suddenly unleashed in the real world could have been funny, it clearly isn't as conceived and executed here. That is, of course, unless you're likely to get big laughs out of watching him eating a hunk of cake with his bare hands, watching him watching monkeys mating on TV and/or him putting a nightmare-inducing liquid (don't ask) into the flatulence-creating holes on the backsides of some toy monkeys (I told you not to ask) to gas a large number of people. If that sounds like grand entertainment to you, then this film might be right up your alley.

It certainly isn't for Bridget Fonda ("Lake Placid," "A Simple Plan") who can't do anything in a flat and uninspired role. Chris Kattan ("A Night at the Roxbury," "House on Haunted Hill") fares a bit better, but only from a physical comedy standpoint as an organ donor corpse that's come alive with a floppy, broken neck. A little bit of that could obviously go a long way, but director Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas," "James and the Giant Peach") repeatedly keeps going back to that for laughs far too many times.

Whoopi Goldberg, the one-time Oscar winner for "Ghost," also needs some better role choosing advice after appearing in "T. Rex" and now this film playing the Devil. Rose McGowan ("Ready to Rumble," "Jawbreaker") is present as the literal sex kitten, but her performance is most notable for her physical rather than thespian attributes. The same can be said for Giancarlo Esposito ("Nothing to Lose," TV's "Homicide: Life on the Street") who appears as a half man, half goat creature, but for his special effects legs rather than his chest.

If there's one partially redeeming factor that prevents the film from being an absolute fiasco, it's the wildly imaginative visual sense that Selick employs in most of the scenes set in the carnival underworld of Downtown. That should come as no surprise considering the director's previous efforts. Yet, where such previous astonishing characters and locales perfectly fit with their corresponding stories, the ones here do so less, and thus stand out more as standalone, rather than complementary effects.

All of which is too bad since it's obvious that a lot of time, effort and money went into creating all of them. It's also too bad that the same didn't go into crafting a decent story into which they could be used. Effects aside, the film is a near utter failure in nearly every sense of the word. Simply put, this is one of those high-profile movies that's so shockingly bad and/or incompetent that it's hard to fathom how it ever was made. Filled with far more monkey wrenches than anyone deserves to have to observe in one film, "Monkeybone" rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed February 14, 2001 / Posted February 23, 2001

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