The Monkey's Mask

on July 27, 2001 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
   Described as a crime drama and erotic thriller, "The Monkey's Mask" has very little mystery and barely a spark of eroticism. Although smartly photographed against an Australian setting, the story of a brisk young female detective's investigation of a missing college student that leads to the dark side of the literary academic world never really catches fire.

   Jill Fitzpatrick (Susie Porter), a former cop turned private-eye, responds to the call of distraught parents searching for their missing daughter, Mickey. Jill quickly discovers Mickey's predilection not only for drippy poetry, but also for the swirling kinky undercurrents prevalent in the local poetry scene. Upon questioning one of Mickey's lit professors, Diana Maitland (Kelly McGillis), Jill soon finds herself courted by the sexy older woman and the two begin a torrid affair with the knowledge and acquiescence of Diana's husband. Jill eventually learns the truth behind Mickey's fate--and how near she herself is to meeting it.

   Anne Kennedy's adaptation of the novel by Dorothy Porter lacks the depth or suspense necessary to engage and sustain enthusiasm for this slender "mystery," making it more foolish than compelling. With flat direction by Lang (whose idea of character development is endless shots of Susie Porter peering intently at people and things), Kennedy spends too much time with pointless voice-overs by Jill that are meant to fill us in on her background, when it would have served better to show us why she is who she is. The "poetry" that forms much (or little) of the "mystery" is crude and stilted, as is most of the dialogue itself.

   McGillis (looking shockingly aged, but oddly and appropriately slimy all at once) and Porter have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever, which thoroughly dampens the erotic aspect of the plot. It is refreshing, however, in this day and age of obsession with skeletal figures, to see the women's rich, curvaceous and appealingly imperfect naked bodies. But when that's the best that can be said of an erotic-crime drama, and when one couldn't care less about solving its mystery, it's really best to stay home and read a book instead.    Starring Susie Porter and Kelly McGillis. Directed by Samanatha Lang. Written by Anne Kennedy. Produced by Robert Connelly and John Maynard. A Strand release. Crime drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 92 min.

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