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With: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helen Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren
Written by: Mark Rosenthal, Lawrence Konner, William Broyles Jr., based on the novel by Pierre Boulle
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of action/violence
Running Time: 125
Date: 26/07/2001

Planet of the Apes (2001)

1 Star (out of 4)

Primate Suspect

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was looking forward to it more than any other summer movie this year, but Planet of the Apes turns out to be the worst movie by a Great American Director since Brian De Palma slogged his way through Mission to Mars last year.

Director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands) still holds a firm place in the pantheon of Great Directors, thanks to his previous eight films, even the worst of which contained a personal touch and a hint of thought or vision. He's one of the few who can work in mainstream Hollywood and still imbue his films with his own particular vision. But this ninth film just plain stinks.

To start with, it doesn't even seem like Burton showed up to direct this turkey. Not one shot betrays anything like the Burton style, which usually consists of an unreal, nightmarish, fairy tale world where the blondes are pure of heart and the lost, misfit hero can almost always find his way. But Planet of the Apes runs like a driverless freight train from start to finish without a hint of humor, irony, or invention. I suspect that this is a movie made by bean counters and not artists, talent agencies and not talent.

Supposedly based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, which was also the basis for the 1968 original, Planet of the Apes begins with astronaut/anthropologist Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) aboard a training ship for monkeys. Leo mutters some stupid dialogue about "sending monkeys to do men's jobs," and so on, before being sucked into a time tunnel in the middle of a magnetic storm in space.

Just before he crashes on the ape planet, which is indeed another planet this time, his spaceship's monitor reveals that he's traveled forward in time. But before he can even register what happens, a bunch of hostile apes take him prisoner, along with a bunch of other humans wearing rags. The rest of the plot concerns his attempts to escape, followed by the requisite battle sequence that would have been more interesting if a child had staged it in a sandbox.

Wahlberg has already proved outstanding in other films (Boogie Nights and Three Kings). But here he seems to be painfully aware of how mindless his dialogue (by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, and Mark Rosenthal) is because he either mumbles his way through it or pretends to be out of breath (even when he hasn't been doing anything strenuous) to cover it up.

Other actors fare about the same. Tim Roth plays the one-dimensional lead bad guy ape Thade, who's so darn evil that he's not above killing members of his own kind. Helena Bonham Carter plays an attractive looking, human-friendly ape (with barely any makeup) who helps the humans escape. Character actor Paul Giamatti (Man on the Moon) rises above everyone else with his fairly humorous portrayal of Limbo, the ape who tends the human-zoo.

Model Estella Warren plays Burton's blonde here, and she looks fantastic in her low-cut, short, sexy rags (while other humans look like tattered cavemen), as well as her gorgeous kinky hair and ruby red lips. She has about ten lines and a dozen reaction shots, and she barely manages them (the audience laughs at her). She's so dull and out of place that even Wahlberg doesn't pay her much attention.

Fans of the original film remember its ingenious final shot, and the new Planet of the Apes attempts a couple of "surprise" twists as well. The trouble is, even if you can't see them coming way in advance, they don't actually make any sense when they do arrive. I can't explain without giving them away, but just ask any scientist -- or even a decent writer -- and they'll snigger at they very idea.

And speaking of the original, Charlton Heston pops up in a wonderful cameo in this one, and utters a great dying line. He's apparently the only one who sensed the ludicrousness of this project and tried to put some camp value into it.

The only thing I can offer in this movie's defense is Tim Burton. When other Great Directors of the past have turned out clunkers, like Hitchcock's I Confess, or Altman's Pret-a-Porter, or Chaplin's A Countess from Hong Kong, time has always redeemed them. As bad as they may have seemed at the time, someone will always come along years later and find something good to say about them. When the time comes for Planet of the Apes, I want to be there just to see them try.

DVD Details: This is one of the worst films I've ever seen. I really tried to watch it again on the new DVD, and I was hoping Burton's commentary track would offer some kind of explanation or excuse, but to no avail. It's an exercise in unmitigated greed and stupidity.

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