on February 23, 2001 by Christine James
   The title sounds vaguely rude, but it couldn't be so base as to be intentional, could it? It could and it would. The origin of "Monkeybone's" eponymous cartoon character is spelled out in a repellant animated short screened for an overenthusiastic audience of marketing types who find it hilarious that an obnoxious simian is somehow borne of a schoolboy's mortifyingly inappropriate classroom arousal (improbably incited by the flabby upper arms of his trollish teacher).

   Brendan Fraser plays the limelight-shirking animator, Stu Miley: (A militaristic name patch on his jacket reading S. Miley drives home the neither applicable nor wholly inappropriate happy face of a moniker.) Stu is almost as disdainful of the promotions execs who want to--horrors!--make money off the Monkeybone property as he seems to be of his own creation. All he wants to do is whisk away his gorgeous girlfriend Julie (Bridget Fonda)--a doctor specializing in sleep disorders whom he met whilst a nightmare-plagued patient at her facility--to propose marriage. En route to his planned romantic rendezvous, however, the accidental triggering of a prototype Monkeybone inflatable river raft in his tiny VW Bug sends the squooshed paramours hurtling into a busy street. Julie escapes unscratched but Stu is knocked into a coma. Rather than going into the light, Stu's spirit is cast down into a hellish waystation known as Downtown.

   Downtown is meant to be a phantasmic, Tim Burtonesque carnival of unholy anthropomorphizations. But Henry Selick, director of the Burton-produced claymation creepshows "Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach," has much still to learn from his mentor, the master of the merrily macabre: In borrowing from the latter's freak-populated limbo in "Beetlejuice," the former fails to create the kind of wildly imaginative characters that seem to be the whole point of the movie.

   After an initial encounter with some talking vermin, Stu has a brush with a spongy misproportioned cyclops strongman and a rotten-toothed pig manning a BBQ shack, both of which seem to be shoddily constructed out of a caliber of foam rubber at which even the cast of "H.R. Pufnstuf" would sneer. There are a couple of amusing and/or well-executed creatures, such as the shiny-tuxedoed Siamese triplet demons and the partygoing Minoan Snake Goddess, both of which are relegated to the background in favor of showcasing a busty cat creature (Rose McGowan) that looks more like a co-ed squeezed into a Spencer Gifts Halloween costume than a denizen of the underworld.

   Stu is desperate to get back to his life and would-be wife, but his own cartoon creation Monkeybone (voiced by John Turturro!?!) manifests itself and, after a few rounds of annoying everybody, steals back to the Earthly plane to live out all its libidinous fantasies--in Stu's body.

   Julie being a decidedly stiff-upper-lip type, there's no great concern engendered for the reunification of the ill-fated lovers. That doesn't mean, however, that we want to see her seduced by the charmless, id-driven Monkeybone in Stu form.

   Things plod along sloppily and gratingly for the majority of the film, finally picking up the pace when Stu temporarily takes over the body of a recently deceased gymnast (Chris Kattan of TV's "Saturday Night Live"), to the fury of the cadre of doctors trying to harvest his organs for profit. The kinetic Kattan bursts forth with some fantastic physical comedy as he duct-tapes his abdomen shut and drags his partially rigormortised limbs toward his true love while his head lolls on his broken neck. While it's not too little it's definitely too late. Starring Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, Dave Foley, Chris Kattan and Whoopi Goldberg. Directed by Henry Selick. Written by Sam Hamm. Produced by Mark Radcliffe and Michael Barnathan. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for crude humor and some nudity. Running time: 92 min

Tags: Starring Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, Dave Foley, Chris Kattan, Whoopi Goldberg. Directed by Henry Selick. Written by Sam Hamm, Produced by Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan, Fox, Comedy

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