At the Movies: 'Monkeybone'

Thursday, February 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

From his first starring role in 1992's ``Encino Man,'' Brendan Fraser's career seems to have been fated.

He played a caveman exhumed in a suburban backyard and revived by two nerdy teen-agers who teach him the peculiar customs of modern times. With his sweet, innocent face, he was somehow endearing in an impossible role.

He's acted in major films since then with far-out plots, often laced with special effects: the mock-Tarzan in ``George of the Jungle''; the American in the French Foreign Legion who becomes entangled with long-dead corpses in ``The Mummy'' (a sequel is in the can).

Less successful but in the same vein: the title character in ``Dudley Do-Right'' from the Jay Ward 1960s cartoon; a loser who sells his soul to the devil in ``Bedazzled.''

This is the same Brendan Fraser who won praise as the naive gardener who falls under the spell of ``Frankenstein'' director James Whale in ``Gods and Monsters.''

``Monkeybone'' will do nothing to enhance Fraser's reputation. It is a puzzling melange of live action and cartoon, real life and fantasy that is almost stupefyingly incoherent. The only saving grace is the running time: a paltry 87 minutes.

Reminiscent of the pioneering live action-animation film ``Who Framed Roger Rabbit,'' ``Monkeybone'' concerns a real-life cartoonist interacting with an animated creation. But all similarity stops there.

Animator Stu Miley (Fraser) has drawn a flippant, mischievous monkey named Monkeybone (voiced by John Turturro). Stu is about to hit the jackpot with a TV series, fuzzy dolls and all kinds of moneymaking ventures. He also has a lovely girlfriend named Julie (Bridget Fonda), whom he intends to marry.

Before he can propose, he suffers an accident that leaves him comatose. His sister suggests pulling the plug, despite Julie's protests. Meanwhile, Stu is thrust into Downtown, a hyperactive hell (or is it purgatory?). No matter how he tries to escape, Monkeybone thwarts him and has his own plans for Stu's future. Death, in the form of Whoopi Goldberg with an eye patch, tries to capture him, despite his efforts to elude her.

Henry Selick directed ``Monkeybone,'' and he also directed 1993's ``The Nightmare Before Christmas'' and 1996's ``James and the Giant Peach.'' He is a master of stop-action and animation, and his concoctions are imaginative though overly frenetic. No characters are fully developed, nor are there any that can evoke empathy.

Sam Hamm, who wrote the screenplay for ``Batman,'' wrote the script based on a graphic novel, ``Dark Town,'' by Kaja Blackley. The 20th Century Fox release is rated PG-13 despite excessive violence, suggestive dialogue and humor based on flatulence.

Fraser reportedly plans to star in ``Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' in London's West End later this year. Perhaps that experience will inspire him to strive for higher things than ``Monkeybone.''


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G — General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.