- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

Hollywood seems determined to trifle with the afterlife again. Chris Rock was rescued from a facetious brush with death in "Down to Earth" last weekend. Now Brendan Fraser is teetering on the brink in a futilely imaginative, ruinously miscalculated supernatural farce titled "Monkeybone," which casts him as a comatose cartoonist threatened with identity theft by his most famous cartoon critter.

That would be the title character, a lecherous and ungovernable little simian. An introductory cartoon fragment informs us that Monkeybone emerged as a schoolroom embarrassment, literally popping out of the trousers of the adolescent future cartoonist, Stu Miley, suddenly aroused and unable to conceal the ribald evidence.

Despite this traumatic genesis, Stu evidently has refined Monkeybone into a smutty gold mine. Comedy Central is clamoring for a long-running series, and an agent played by Dave Foley is eager to drown Stu in product endorsements and replicas.

As a matter of outrageous fact, an inflatable batch of Monkeybones leads to the car accident that places poor Stu in life-support limbo after an inadequate introduction to his live-action surroundings.

Among other late bulletins, we discover that Stus fiancee, played by Bridget Fonda, is some kind of sleep therapist who cured her guy of chronic unrest. The accident plunges him into a sustained slumber.

A belated deadline supplies a strictly expedient note of urgency: Stus greedy sister looks forward to ending life support at the end of six months.

From Stus vantage point, hes trapped in an alternately slapstick and sinister underworld teeming with grotesque figures borrowed from mythology and vintage amusement-park fun houses.

Giancarlo Esposito turns up as a sawed-off satyr called the God of Sleep. The next stop along a roller-coaster track to oblivion is the Land of Death, rather benignly dominated by Whoopi Goldberg, a blustering soft-touch humbug in hideous costumes.

Back in the ostensible land of the conscious and commonplace, Miss Fonda aspires to jolt her beloved out of his perilous slumber. Monkeybone, a lewd alter ego, contrives to sap Stu and infiltrate his awakening body, taking advantage of a suspicious but obliging Miss Fonda.

Aware of the double-cross, Stu must find a body substitute of his own and resorts to a zombielike Chris Kattan, who shoves a T square down his back to correct a floppy tendency and chases Monkeybone.

The little reprobate plans a mass caper of elaborate nastiness: the aerosol poisoning of partygoers with the use of flagrantly stinky Monkeybone toys, rigged to emit a rude noise and aroma from their rumps when kiddies tug on a naughty digit.

A would-be rollicking fiasco, "Monkeybone" eludes anything approximating clever control by Henry Selick, the talented specialist in stop-motion and puppet animation who directed "Tim Burtons The Night Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach."

He cant finesse a muddled, grungy mix of the sinister and the farcical. One might blame the broken-down consistency of the live-action sequences on his lack of experience outside animated settings, but the monkey itself seems a bum idea for slapstick mayhem in either cartoon or prop form.

Simulating Monkeybones low cunning and lewd appetites does nothing for Brendan Fraser as a farceur. To be kind, lets assume he exhausted his possibilities as a cartoon stand-in while impersonating George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right.

The timing is propitious for no one in an exposed position in "Monkeybone." Mr. Selick and his collaborators no doubt began with inventive designs and playful intentions. The finished product seems to have gone all wrong because of a stupefying tone and haphazard execution.

1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Monkeybone"

RATING: PG-13 (Frequent sexual allusions in an alternately farcical and nightmarish context; illustrative details that emphasize the lewd and macabre; a plot that revolves around a character on the brink of death)

CREDITS: Directed by Henry Selick.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

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