Comic Book Overkill 

Monkeybone (PG-13)
20th Century Fox

In my experience, few girls or women are big comic book fans. Somewhere past about age ten, when Archie and Veronica lose their grip, comic books become mostly a boy thing, a place boys and men can work out whatever it is that they're working out in those graphic stories. There are some exceptions, of course, like my very best friend who puts her name on wait-lists for comics with names like Clyde Fans and Palookaville, but of course my friends usually provide exceptions to most social rules.

With the gender/taste divide in mind, therefore, I'm going to hedge a little bit in this review of Monkeybone, a movie based on the comic book novel Dark Town by Kaja Blackley. If you're a comic book fan, you might find this convoluted plot "complex," the adolescent sexual antics "therapeutic," the supporting roles of women "realistic," and the wacko visual effects "creative." If you're not a fan, well, stick with the first adjectives in the list.

The movie takes its title from a character created by young comic book artist Stu Miley (Brendan Frasier). Monkeybone is a manic monkey that not-so-subtly represents creativity and the most frequently euphemized part of human (read: male) anatomy. Stu's new creation is a hit, and after the animated strip has been screened, every merchandiser in Hollywood wants a part of him, while Stu wants only to get out of the screening room and home with his girlfriend Julie (Bridget Fonda) so he can propose to her.

As fate would have it, however, Stu and Julie never make it much past the parking lot where Stu is creamed by an auto accident and ends up in a months-long coma. While Julie hovers anxiously over his hospital bed, Stu lands in a purgatory Never-Never land called "Downtown" where all his childish nightmares haunt him day and night. Downtown is populated by huge plasticine satyrs, ogres and many-headed monsters, as well as his lascivious monkey creation who gets in Stu's way every chance he gets.

I could spend hundreds of words describing the complicated plot whereby Stu tries to steal an exit pass back to the real world from Death (Whoopi Goldberg), is outwitted by his monkey sidekick, ends up in a purgatory's purgatory with Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King and Lizzie Borden, but I won't. Nor will I attempt to explain how Stu tries to steal "nightmare juice" concocted by his sweetheart, comes to inhabit the body of a dead gymnast (Chris Kattan), flies over L.A. spewing out his organs ... well, maybe you get the picture.

Ultimately, I suspect that director Harry Selick's major problem with this creation is that he tried to do way too much. The vision that can carry a comic book, where the imagination fills in the spaces between illustrations, needs to be radically pared down when it comes to a live-action movie. With no space between frames and no time to process a convoluted plot, contrasting visual worlds and various film parodies, the result is a weird little mess of a movie that, I suspect, will live in its own little purgatory populated by a subculture of male fans who can appreciate this kind of thing.


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