In this curiosity piece, Ben Kingsley plays a sort of Pied Piper for the simian set. Unfortunately, there are too many monkeys and not enough good writers to save this odd farrago of a film.
A snake-killer by trade, Cunda (Ben Kingsley) makes a few extra bucks collecting insects and animals for a scientist who suggests that Cunda sell his monkeys in the "beeg ceety" (everyone in the film speaks with a thick accent except Kingsley, adding another layer of incomprehensibility to an
already strange movie). In order to raise the loot he needs to wed a pulchritudinous widow, Maria (Sylvia De Carvalho), Cunda heads for civilization with his chimps in tow. Along the way, he's forced to work in a mining camp where his long-lost pal Mario (Paulo Vinicius) is killed. Upon escaping
from the hell-hole of a mining camp, Cunda is seized by soldiers who raid a village he's visiting and confiscate the town's inhabitants as slaves. Fleeing with a native girl, Octavia (Mika Lins), to whom the monkeys take a shine, Cunda finally arrives in the "beeg ceety."
In the marketplace, the apes cause a ruckus which lands Cunda in jail and causes one of the chimps to fall into the clutches of a hunter working for vivisectionists. Although Cunda and Octavia find temporary respite in a sanctuary presided over by a rich eccentric, Mrs. Watts (Vera Fischer), they
are unable to save the stolen monkey in time. Cunda and Octavia argue over his right to sell the chimps to a zoo or carnival when the adorable simians were trusting enough to follow him blindly in the first place. Estranged from Octavia and still pining for zaftig Maria, Cunda decides to travel
quickly to an even "beeger ceety" where he can get a high fee for his menagerie. But gripped by his conscience after selling them, he returns to a shipping dock and takes back his monkeys while freeing dozens of other captive animals. In the jungle, Cunda is not only reunited with Octavia, but
also makes the acquaintance of a fifth monkey whom he adopts. Cunda and his four chimps happily settle down in the jungle with Octavia.
Perhaps FIFTH MONKEY could have worked as a G-rated adventure for kids, but it certainly isn't up to the profundities its creators have saddled it with. All the underpinnings about man's place in the animal kingdom and about animal rights are poorly woven into the ongoing action of the film.
Occasionally, the movie manufactures a weirdly compelling scene that shakes it out of the torpor threatening to engulf it, but overall, one's time might be more profitably spent viewing a nature documentary on PBS. Stumbling through the picaresque narrative, Cunda never seems to learn anything,
and his last-minute change of heart registers as unmotivated. The film falters in its overweening desire to be meaningful--yet its life-affirming, monkey-loving attitudes are never dramatized, they're just mouthed by the characters at irregular intervals.
In terms of performance, the monkeys are the finest actors on display, although they're fortunate enough not to be saddled with any of the film's crypto-noble savage dialogue. The simians certainly outshine the supporting cast, who appear uncomfortable speaking English, and out-act Kingsley, who
does little to color his performance. His intelligence and natural willfulness prohibit him from easily embodying this simple peasant character. Kingsley doesn't command our attention, forcing the viewer to fall back on admiring the lush scenery and quaint villagers milling about.
Since Eric Rochat's direction is pedestrian and the leading character remains a thick-witted cipher and since even the exotic photography doesn't make the most of the lush locales, the film doesn't offer much in the way of ancillary pleasures. Thank God for the chimpanzees. Without them, the
audience would be stuck with lots of pidgin English and soulful stares from the extras and interminably long camera set-ups which suggest the editor must have been getting paid not to snip off frames. THE FIFTH MONKEY is one of a kind, but that is not intended as a recommendation. (Violence,nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: In this curiosity piece, Ben Kingsley plays a sort of Pied Piper for the simian set. Unfortunately, there are too many monkeys and not enough good writers to save this odd farrago of a film. A snake-killer by trade, Cunda (Ben Kingsley) makes a few extra… (more)