A review of  Planet of the Apes” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for intensity, violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

 

It’s time for Tim Burton to go back to the basics, forsaking the big-budget action picture (it’s not working, Tim) and channeling his visionary energies into intelligent, edgy indie material.

All style and no substance is the credo of summer 2001, and “Apes” is no exception.  Mark Wahlberg takes over for Charlton Heston as our illustrious hero, Air Force Captain Leo Davidson.  As a catalyst for revolutionary social change, or just a painless way to kick-start the movie, Davidson literally drops out of the sky in his high-tech Delta Pod and into the future, where apes rule the planet and humans are hunted and enslaved.  Tower of strength that he is, Davidson isn’t buying the contemporary animal hierarchy, and abruptly organizes a human mutiny.  The humans attempt to escape forced imprisonment, only to be ruthlessly hunted down by the tyrannical Thade (Tim Roth), his ape-army lieutenant Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), and dozens of Rick Baker-inspired primates.

Run, Davidson, run.  Considering the mindless narrative, fleeing the apes is the crux of Wahlberg’s role. Davidson manages to spirit his group back to the damaged pod and rescue the cool global positioning gear that could be their saving grace.  Because the apes are a highly evolved species, Burton throws in a monkey vs. human siren love triangle that goes exactly nowhere, with Davidson the unwitting object of affection of sultry slave Daena (Estella Warren) and compassionate, rebellious ape Ari (Helena Bonham Carter).

A-list pedigree guarantees a highly sophisticated look. Baker on make-up, Danny Elfman on score, Philippe Rousselot on camera, and Burton at the helm amount to an audio and visual winner. Burton’s fanatical attention to detail (mandatory “Ape School” for incorporating subtle ape body language, relentless search for exotic production locations) is for naught when faced with lackluster dialogue and a tedious storyline. The acting is the weakest link, with only Roth overcoming oppressive layers of simian latex to project a pure evil that’s pivotal to the characterization.  Menacing, flying monkeys are uncomfortably, but delightfully, reminiscent of  “The Wizard of Oz” (who can forget?), and Paul Giamatti lends comic relief as Limbo, the human slave trader.  Low points include Heston’s melodramatic turn as Thade’s dying father, Warren’s wooden, superfluous presence, and a bevy of social conscience platitudes (“the smarter we get, the more dangerous we become”). 

Perhaps most disappointing is the lack of psychological subtleties and/or political implications.  If apes truly have evolved enough to challenge our supreme authority, now that’s movie-worthy.