Trying, for utter lack of anything better to do, to codify Monkeybone as an equation, I deduce a fearsome formula including such variables as Cool World, Beetlejuice, Jumanji and Jim Carrey's recent Grinch. I have invented a new math: long derision.
At the very least, this muddled insta-cult confection is equal to the sum of its disparate and unwieldy parts. Directed by Tim Burton acolyte Henry Selick and adapted by Sam Hamm from an obscure graphic novel called Dark Town, Monkeybone pits cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) against a menagerie of beasties rampaging through his subconscious. Stu, you see, has suffered a nasty bump in the head, to the chagrin of his girlfriend Dr. Julie (impossibly impassive Bridget Fonda). And like most comatose artists, he finds himself in "Downtown," a swank-rot metropolis governed by Death (Whoopi Goldberg, previously thought dead herself). Now abetted by his principal brainchild, the phallically dubbed title creature, Stu must navigate the perilous terrain of his imagination, fraught with all manner of lions and tigers and bears. Fraught also, I should add, with the soggy tundra of the screenplay, aswim in subplots, clichés and puns.
Bill Boes' production design, which reifies Stu's psyche as a glittery, sinister, night-lit carnival, buoys the agreeably slapdash Act I: Downtown. But when the mischievous (and market-ready) Monkeybone lodges himself in Stu's gangly body, the film lurches into the "real world," where Julie and a host of others (including Megan Mullally as Stu's fatalistic sister and Dave Foley as a corporate conniver) are subjected to many, many reaction shots. Here on out, the project's narrative does not cohere; considering Selick's repertoire (the spectral Nightmare Before Christmas and bold misfire James and the Giant Peach) that's both expected and forgiven.
In shuttling between realities, the director also fails to sustain a consistent tone, which begs the question: For whom was this movie made? The character of Monkeybone-who resembles nothing so much as an ambulatory penis-functions as a simian expression of Stu's id-as the kid behind me put it, "He looks like a weiner."
True to form, the film practically ejaculates its sexuality ("I'm going to choke my monkey!" Fraser fumes more than once), yet its story is a flailing shambles. In the end, all the toilet humor undermines the sophistication of Stu's ravaged three-dimensional dreamscape. Monkeybone isn't quite bipolar, but everything in between.
Fraser, to his credit, delivers a clownish, look-Ma-I'm-mugging performance, but the production, which suggests nothing so much as Ralph Bakshi playing with Beanie Babies, defeats him. The failure here is Selick's: He remains an agile visual stylist, yet his stop-motion harlequin is draped over a seriously shiftless story.
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