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Drawn to Doom: Cartoonist Stu (Brendan Fraser) has a monkey--and a bunch of other strange creatures--on his back in the nightmarish netherworld of his unconscious.

Flogging the Monkey

Brendan Fraser stars in a half-animated tale of a cartoonist horrified at the big sellout

By Richard von Busack

STU MILEY (Brendan Fraser) is the creator of cartoons about how hard puberty hit him. His new strange impulses are represented by his animated libido, a fez-wearing monkey character named Monkeybone. As the film begins, the Monkeybone show has become a hit on Cartoon Central, and Miley has the dazed look of someone who just had the proverbial Hollywood truckload of money dumped on his lawn. His manager (David Foley) is eager to franchise the hell out of the monkey, much to Stu's fears. When Stu's knocked into a coma by an accident, he enters a nightmare land called Downtown. It's a skid row of the unconscious, where he's stuck for months with his evil little monkey sidekick, now as real as he is.

Monkeybone was directed by Henry Selick, who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. He formerly collaborated with Tim Burton on that film, and the narrative in Monkeybone makes Tim Burton seem like a master of cause-and-effect storytelling. Even for a cartoon, it's illogical. Monkeybone has promising ideas, especially the Orphic element of Stu being called back to our world by his grieving girlfriend (Bridget Fonda, very serious and tender.) We never do get a good understanding of what Downtown is about, though. Stu seems to be stuck in limbo because of a dispute between Death (Whoopi Goldberg) and Hypnos, God of Sleep (Giancarlo Esposito, a Hefnerian satyr on mincing little goat legs). Why these two supernatural deities have it in for each other isn't explained. Though we do learn that Hypnos, greedy for nightmares, wants Stu back on earth to cook up a vast supply for him and his kingdom. That's why Hypnos sends Monkeybone back to earth to inhabit Stu's body. But it must be the brain and not the body that comes up with nightmares ... am I thinking too hard about this? Perhaps, but I needed something to mull over in between the comic shocks delivered by the makeup and startling masks--Sid and Marty Kroft, only even more malevolent.

As a cartoon character, Monkeybone isn't amusing. He always gets his way, and there's nothing he pushes against that gets to push back. The comedy really starts in the middle of the film when Fraser returns to earth, possessed by the unclean monkey. Fraser may not be a critic's darling, but he is a winning, good-looking slapstick comedian in prime physical shape. He's at his best as the host for a monkey libido demon ready to pollute the world with Monkeybone merchandise. The second half also has the advantage of more scenes with Downtown's catwoman bartender, Miss Kitty (Rose McGowan). Monkeybone is the first movie that recognizes that there's old-fashioned beauty in this radical young woman. She may not be enough of a reason to see the movie, though McGowan finishes her part of the movie with a memorable, audacious joke about how pussycats show their cruel side without any warning. What I cared for wasn't Monkeybone's dick jokes, but Fraser's appealing shyness and McGowan's bizarre but fetching purr.

Monkeybone (PG-13; 82 min.) directed by Henry Selick, written by Sam Hamm and Kaja Blackley, based on the graphic novel Dark Town, photographed by Andrew Dunn, and starring Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, Giancarlo Esposito, Whoopi Goldberg and Rose McGowan, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the February 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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