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film review **: Monkey Business

Jackson...s ...Rings... Follow-up Is Disturbing and Fails to Captivate

By Nivair Gabriel

Directed by Peter Jackson

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Based on the story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

Produced by Jan Blenkin, Philippa Boyens, Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson,

Fran Walsh

Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black,

Adrien Brody

Universal Pictures

Rated PG-13

In Theaters Now

Thank goodness Adrien Brody is as enrapturing as he is.

Otherwise, I would never have gotten through the 187-minute piece of dreck that director Peter Jackson calls “King Kong.” His remake of the 1930s movie icon was inauspicious to begin with: after the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jackson had a free pass to do any project he wanted, and he chose to retell the story of a big dumb ape and a blond bimbo.

The relationship between gorilla and girl is the only other thing that holds up the movie, which is unfortunate considering that the bond is not captivating at all. Every scene between the two characters, played by a computer-altered Andy Serkis and a real life Naomi Watts respectively, lasts about twenty minutes longer than necessary. Let’s face it — it’s pretty difficult for a giant monkey to emote. Gee whiz, that Watts chick sure is pretty, so pretty that no man or beast in the movie can resist her charms, but that’s not quite enough of a revelation to justify an $8 ticket and $10 popcorn.

So the parts of the plot that don’t focus on failed actress Ann Darrow (Watts) and her hairy young man? Well, there’s the under-appreciated fanatic movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black), the dorky and soulful yet deliciously ripped playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), a ragtag crew with no clear motivation or personality, the creepy island natives, and more computer-generated creatures than Jurassic Park and Eight-Legged Freaks combined.

The beginning of the movie is promising, as we survey a misty and colorized 30’s-era New York City through the eyes of desperate vaudeville performer Darrow. She’s down to her last penny and her theater has just been shut down — she announces in anguish that good things never last, but then that character development teaser is dropped and never to be spoken of again. Meanwhile, Denham needs a charming and gorgeous leading lady for his film, and about a hundred more pages from his writer. They all take off in a boat together, evading arrest from the producers who want Denham’s movie canned. As soon as they’re 10 feet out from the harbor, they’re completely free, because policemen had no idea how to use boats at that time — but we’ll let that one slide.

Once they’re off, they’re off: Denham reveals that his shooting location is the mysterious Skull Island, a technically undiscovered land that only exists on a scrawled map that he inexplicably possesses. Darrow and Driscoll do some excellent tongue-kissing, and the whole thing just heads straight on downhill from there.

The boat crew pretends to turn in the fugitives but then doesn’t, and upon reaching the island they then pretend to abandon the moviemakers but actually don’t. Jackson uses the same dizzying camerawork he used in “Lord of the Rings” to show everyone how scary all the skulls are, and when the creepy-looking island natives offer Darrow as sacrifice to the beast Kong, Watts’s scream pierces the ear like a Nazgul’s. The only difference is, millions of geeks cared about Frodo, irritating as he was; nobody cares about Darrow.

Except, of course, for the crew members of the ship, who all take up arms lickety-split and venture straight back into a dangerous island. This is believable because … she’s blonde. That’s it.

Then the real creature feature begins. What’s worse than watching a half-hour battle between a gorilla and three dinosaurs? Cutting instantly to a half-hour battle between Adrien Brody, some giant cockroaches, and a weird extra-slimy caterpillar with teeth. What’s worse than both of those? The screenplay’s pathetic literary allusions to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” which lack both insight and relevance.

Despite all this focus on matter-over-mind, the look of the film is cheap and unimpressive. None of the shots were imaginative or awe-inspiring, and the beginning of the film has so many overdone close-ups a person could develop nausea. Even the gorgeous jungle is clunkily presented, taking away all the mystique of a beautiful and undiscovered land.

Jackson’s team at WingNut Films, which captivated the world with “Lord of the Rings,” seems convinced that it’s okay to be that slow and narratively challenged in other movies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work here, and it’s never going to work again. Though I appreciated seeing a heroine who wasn’t entirely helpless or annoying, there was nothing else worthwhile about the script. Even the fabulous actors couldn’t save the film, although they did enough to keep me from walking out.

Denham, who is either supposed to portray a morally ambiguous cautionary tale or a narrow-minded artist who redeems himself with his passion, gives everyone a good look at what Jack Black can accomplish in a serious role. Black is excellent, as are Watts and Brody, and the opening scenes where the principals meet each other are full of chemistry. Sadly, however, each carefully laid tidbit of conflict is lost in the mad rush to show off cool bits of CGI and horrify people.

I wasn’t horrified so much as bored beyond belief. With the wow factor gone, the faults of the script and the presentation are laid bare. It was a failed project from the beginning, with pretty cinematography the highest one. The only beauty here was in Adrien Brody’s brooding eyes and droopy nose, and that’s not enough to make a movie great.