The Ape (2005) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely would be R for language, crude humor and sexual content
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: James Franco, Brian Lally, Allison Bibicoff, Stacey Miller, Vince Jolivette
Director: James Franco
Screenplay: James Franco, Merriwether Williams (based on their play)
Review published March 12, 2006
Originally starting as a play, written (along with "Spongebob Squarepants" writer Williams) and starring James Franco (Spider-Man 2, City by the Sea), The Ape is yet another film featuring a writer who isolates himself to finish his latest novel, only to crack from the pressure and hallucinate an alter ego that he perceives to be real (see Barton Fink and Secret Window). But is it really a hallucination?
Franco not only writes and stars, but also directs for the first time, and given the low budget and what little experience has in this arena, he should get the credit he deserves for taking a chance on such a high-concept premise and succeeding in delivering an interesting movie, even if it isn't exactly what one might call a genuinely good film.
In the plot, Franco stars as Harry Walker, a married HR rep stuck in an increasingly stagnant life, struggling to find the time and mental fortitude to write the great novel he thinks he has in him. Determined to get out of the trap, Harry rents his own large studio apartment in New York, away from his wife and kid, so that he can find the privacy he needs to actually write. However, privacy proves hard to come by as he has an unexpected roommate in the form of a giant talking gorilla, who proceeds to make his oasis a sort of living nightmare, interrupting and taunting Harry to no end. As much as he tries to shut the primate out, soon, the ape starts getting to him, and Harry begins to exhibit more aggressive behavior that gets him in trouble, both at work and in his marriage.
Although it isn't stated as such in the film, the Ape can be seen as a representation of the giant "monkey on the back" that plagues many artists that have trouble finding the time and inspiration to do the masterpiece they all feel is in them in their heads. As a darkly wry comedy, The Ape, the movie, has its moments, and Franco does deliver a fine comedic performance that says he should do more of them in his future. His technique when it comes to directing isn't flashy, but for the quirky independent release that it is, the handheld shots and digital textures are par for the course. As a writer, he and Williams do manage to create funny situations and clever insights, but as Franco's character begins to come unhinged, so too does the movie.
The Ape will probably earn a very small cult following for being a bizarre black comedy, although one that most will find amusing strictly for the idea of it more so than the actual quality of the film as a piece of art in itself. While in the end, it doesn't actually strike home in any substantial way, this is the kind of guilty pleasure material that one can enjoy for being bad in a good way -- I mean, it has a guy in an ape suit, and that is rarely ever a good thing in movies. It's amusing and energetic, but not quite the sharp and realized work that will put Franco among the forefront of up-and-coming feature filmmakers just yet.
©2006 Vince Leo