Inside Monkey Zetterland

A bit cheekier but in the same basic vein as WHEN THE PARTY'S OVER, this wry comedy-satire views life on the fringes of LA with a maddening accuracy through the eyes of the star and director of the frenetic DRIVE. The title character is a former child star trying to launch himself as a screenwriter, echoing the experience of real-life star-writer Steve...read more

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A bit cheekier but in the same basic vein as WHEN THE PARTY'S OVER, this wry comedy-satire views life on the fringes of LA with a maddening accuracy through the eyes of the star and director of the frenetic DRIVE.

The title character is a former child star trying to launch himself as a screenwriter, echoing the experience of real-life star-writer Steve Antin who, before DRIVE, lent juvenile support to such teen films as John Hughes' SIXTEEN CANDLES and THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. But Monkey's career move

proves the least of his problems. His brassy, volatile girlfriend Daphne (Debi Mazar) is walking out on him, after taking his favorite curtains and turning them into a dress. His mom, Honor (Katherine Helmond), is fretting over her long-running acting job in a long-running soap opera. Her mate in

the show has just bought a deep freezer, and she correctly suspects it's for her. Monkey's lesbian sister Grace (Patricia Arquette) has had a falling out with her mate Cindy (Sofia Coppola), who has become pregnant, following a one-night stand with someone she met at a gay rights demonstration, in

hopes of building a family with Grace. In her romantic funk, Grace drifts towards Monkey's creepy new neighbors, Sasha and Sophie (Rupert Everett, Martha Plimpton), radical gay rights activists who are building bombs in Monkey's garage.

Frustrated over Monkey's abandonment of his acting career, Honor pushes his hairdresser brother Brent (Tate Donovan) into show biz. Both Monkey and his mom are being stalked by fans. Neighbor Imogene (Sandra Bernhard) has romantic designs on Monkey, while Bella's (Ricki Lake) plans for Honor

prove more sinister. Jealous over the attention Grace is getting from Sasha, Sophie builds a suicide bomb for her to carry into an insurance company suspected of discriminating against AIDS victims. When Sasha tries to warn Grace at the last second, they're both killed in the explosion, and Grace

becomes a gay-rights martyr. Bella tries to shoot Honor while Monkey is out walking his dog. Monkey manages to tackle Bella, but she shoots Monkey's dog, blinding her, before fatally turning the gun on herself. The resulting publicity and notoriety leads Monkey's screenplay to get produced, with

Brent in the lead, while Honor's character in the soap opera is thawed out, and Monkey lets Imogene into his life.

Though neither as disciplined nor original as DRIVE, MONKEY is nevertheless a respectably whimsical offering from director Jefery Levy and Antin, if one's definition of whimsy includes terrorist bombings, star stalkings, and dog shootings. If past history is any indication, the latter is bound

to disturb audiences more than either of the former. However, the shooting, like the other violence, is theatricalized to the point where it looks less real than the surreal life leading up to it. In fact, one of Monkey's defining traits is that he drifts freely in and out of fantasies and

flashbacks. His day-to-day life is so completely unhinged that the intrusion of violence merely seems a tiresome nuisance. Yet, the characters and situations aren't so over-the-top that they edge into camp or derision.

What's deadliest about MONKEY is how recognizable it is, from Monkey's amorphous script about the demise of Los Angeles' fabled streetcar system, which, appropriately, was last seen as the major subplot of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, to the overall mood of edgy mellowness (or mellow edginess) that

inescapably captures the LA attitude. The film's major weakness is a narrative tone dry to the point of desiccation. Levy's DRIVE was a comic contemplation of nothingness from the passenger side of an endless commute. Nothingness still seems to be on Levy's mind here. What becomes immediately

noticeable about MONKEY is that it has no real center, a point underlined by frequent scenes in which characters drift not only out of the frame, but into different rooms, while the camera stays put, apparently too bored to follow them.

Monkey seems a shell-shocked cipher much of the time, buffeted by the raw, hot-wired, obsessively self-absorbed psyches surrounding him. The only character with any recognizable moral center is Grace, and she comes to a sticky end. It makes sense that, for Monkey, the cathartic event is not his

sudden, uncharacteristic burst of courage when his mother is threatened, but his victory over the city worker trying to tow his car for parking tickets he's just returned from paying. Rather than an excess of attitude, what Levy displays as a director in MONKEY is an excess of anti-attitude. He

never gives a clue how he relates to his characters or story, which isn't much help to the viewer. On the upside, the cast is game and funny. At the very least, Levy is to be commended for giving Sofia Coppola a chance to redeem herself after the world-class drubbing she took for giving her dad a

hand in GODFATHER III. But, overall, MONKEY proves too cool for its own good. (Adult situations, profanity.)

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