Rating: R for language, nudity
Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Poor Tim Robbins. He’s the most inconsistent actor in the business - alternately flaunting his writing/acting/directing brilliance (“Dead Man Walking”, “Bob Roberts”) and turning in auto-pilot performances.
Unfortunately, this outing falls in the latter category. Robbins plays Nathan Bronfman, a socially awkward animal behaviorist who is one of a triptych of social misfits whose lives intersect with catastrophic results.
Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette) is a curvaceous young naturalist with a beast-like abundance of body hair. She’s lived most of her life communing with the outdoors, but tires of the wild and gives it a go in the real world, ultimately falling for the emotionally dysfunctional Bronfman. On a semi-romantic nature walk the pair stumble upon Puff (Rhys Ifans), an unfortunate primal creature raised by apes. Bronfman’s evil genius smells scientific opportunity. Puff is kept in a glass cage and gradually exposed to the ways of modern civilization – learning to read, eat, speak and dress to the manner born.
Good premise – poor execution. Subplots and sidebars meander through the story, attempting to layer on the quirky intelligence but succeeding only in weighing down the plot. Bronfman’s quirky past, Puff’s societal dilemma, Lila’s Big Secret (that unsightly hair!) and her innate sympathies towards the simian-like Puff are all played for laughs, with mixed results.
It’s hard to believe that “Human Nature” was penned by “Being John Malkovich” scribe Charlie Kaufman. Gone are the wicked black barbs; poof goes the sophisticated humor. In its place is cheap, vulgar dialogue and a plot that crawls along at a snail’s pace. Bronfman is so thoroughly unpleasant as a human being that Robbins’ performance becomes inconsequential. Lila and Puff’s dilemmas are blown out of proportion relative to the storyline, utilizing a jackhammer sensibility where subtly would have suited. To conform or not is the question – the answer is never clear.