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[whitespace] Tim Roth Thade to Black: Tim Roth plays Thade, a villainous monkey who's all business in Tim Burton's remake of 'Planet of the Apes.'

Aped Crusaders

Apes outshine humans in Tim Burton's remake

By Richard von Busack

THE SOUREST of all sci-fi fairy tales, Planet of the Apes came from an era when de-evolution seemed like a distinct possibility. Thirty years later, the story still has some resonance even if our attitude toward apes has changed. They've become our victims, and we've come to understand their intelligence and gentleness even as our race has pushed them to the edge of extinction in the wild.

Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes puts its worst foot forward by representing the human race with Mark Wahlberg. The inert actor plays Leo Davidson (the Taylor character), who has been helping train a cargo of space chimps on exploratory missions. When one of his apes goes missing, Leo tracks it straight into a wormhole and comes out in the near future marooned on a planet ruled by various species of apes (somehow horses got on this planet, too, presumably in their own space ship).

It's only after Leo's captured that the movie starts up in earnest. He's purchased by a liberal human fancier named Ari (played by Helena Bonham Carter, who looks like the offspring of Bubbles and Michael Jackson). As a political statement she wears hand-loomed fabrics made by the human slaves. She's the lone liberal at a boring dinner table full of ape reactionaries, proposing a final solution to the human problem ("Extremism in the defense of apes is no vice," says one of them, paraphrasing Barry Goldwater). Bonham Carter's acting, ranging from strange yet adroit physical comedy to unsettling vamping, is the heart of the film. She's still riding high from the gritty slattern she played in Fight Club; it's plain she's never going back to Merchant and Ivory.

Through Ari, we meet the ruling elite of the planet: the exhausted senators and the all-too-powerful general Thade (Tim Roth), who seems ready to seize power through exterminating the humans. It took chimp makeup to bring out the magnetism in Roth, who hasn't been this good in years. Then again, Rick Baker's makeup, unlike so much stage makeup, only gets better as you look at it longer. Thade is handsomely armored in black and gold Renaissance breastplates; unrequited love has put an edge on his terrible temper.

The battle sequences, of apes racing and leaping like jack in the boxes, are good enough: an army of goblin-faced monsters, like something out of Hindu myth. But this new Planet of the Apes justifies itself as an interspecies love triangle among Thade, Ari and the not-uninterested Leo. (It's a running gag that the Nova girl, named Daena and played by blonde looker Estella Warren, is almost ignored--she's miffed at all the attention paid to the ape girl.)

This is plainly work for hire, obviously compromised in spots, but Burton's once again put his personal stamp on the well-worn story; the ruts in it really give the sometimes scatter-brained director a chance to organize his thoughts. Wahlberg's stolidness can't take the eerie quality out of the final shot--even expecting it, it's a stunner: the evilest of evil political cartoons come to life.

Planet of the Apes (PG-13; 120 min.), directed by Tim Burton, written by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, photographed by Philippe Rousselot and starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter, opens Friday, July 27, at selected theaters.

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Web extra to the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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