The Ape
TLA Releasing // Unrated // $19.99 // March 7, 2006
Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 11, 2006
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Harry Walker (Freaks and Geeks alum James Franco) thinks he has The Great American Novel in him, but a noisy life in the suburbs and the tedium of a human resource gig at the phone company keep his inner Faulkner from clacking away at his keyboard. So, he moves into an apartment in the city for a few months, hoping some time by himself will defrost the creative juices. Sounds like a plan, sure, but the "by himself" routine doesn't really work out so much 'cause the apartment comes with an ape. Anyway, this walking, talking, Hawaiian shirt-clad ape eggs Harry on, finally getting him to put digital-pen to paper but in the process costs him his family...his job...his sanity. Hilarity ensues. Well, at least hilarity should ensue, but it doesn't, and that's kinda the problem.

Okay, so The Ape is about a struggling writer whose roommate-slash-best-friend-slash-arch-nemesis is an ape in a dime store mask and a Hawaiian shirt. "Great idea" doesn't necessarily translate to "great movie", and The Ape mostly squanders its endearingly quirky concept. To pick a completely arbitrary number, 80% of the comedy falls flat. The ape shouts "gorilla wet willies!" and sticks his fingers in Harry's ears. Okay. The ape throws poop all over Harry. Gotcha. Harry dry-humps a framed portrait of Dostoyevsky. Duly noted. The ape's masturbating to the Discovery Channel. Silent nod. Hey, look, Harry and the ape are snuggling! If I could quickly think of another dryly sarcastic way of indicating that I don't think this is funny, I'd be writing it down right now.

Still, even though 80% of the comedy sputters and flounders, that remaining 20% redeems it enough that The Ape doesn't seem like a waste. I'm probably supposed to be too snotty and elitist to laugh at "hey, you must be gay" jokes, but coming up with a phrase like "delicatessen of dick"? That's artistry. A Jewish-centric singles website called A deadpanned gag about "monkey business"? Maybe I'm too easily won over by corny wordplay. It's my failing both as an amateur movie reviewer and as a human being, and I make no apologies.

But hey, there's more to The Ape than puns and dick jokes. There's...well, lots of filler set at the offices of Brooklyn Bell, where Harry works in HR. Reams and reams of dialogue that's neither funny nor insightful. A really awkward morality and a frustratingly clumsy ending where Franco attempts to steer things in a more serious direction. With some heavy trimming and a lot more of the funny, The Ape could've been a brilliant short, but it's too meandering, unfocused, and uneven to fill out an hour-and-a-half runtime, and it's much less surreal and far more routine than you'd expect from its fascinatingly off-kilter premise.

Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video has a pretty slick, crisp DV look to it. Some of the more dimly lit shots in the apartment look a little noisy, and there's some extremely heavy ringing around some edges, but I don't have any major gripes.

Audio: No matter what kind of audio rig you have, there's a soundtrack here to match: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbps), DTS 5.1, a stereo track, and, if you feel like listing it here, an audio commentary. I gave the DTS track a whirl and thought it sounded fine. The material doesn't really lend itself to an balls-out sonic assault, but the classical-tinged score maintains a decent presence in all of the speakers, and the film's dialogue mostly comes through cleanly and clearly. Some of the shouted stretches are clipped, but it's not a pervasive problem. Nothing overwhelmingly impressive, but it is what it needs to be. The DVD isn't closed captioned, but it does include English subtitles.

Supplements: Co-writer/director/executive producer/star/probably-some-other-titles-separated-with-slashes James Franco pops up in both of the DVD's extras. First up is a nine-minute interview that kind of serves as a condensed commentary, tackling the origin of the concept, the process of translating The Ape from stage to screen, bringing virtually everyone from the play into the movie, music, working as a first-time director...y'know, all the highlights. It's on the redundant side if you've listened to the commentary, but the stills and snippets of footage from the play that are interspersed throughout make it worth a quick look either way.

But yeah, there is a commentary track with James Franco, who's joined by producer Vince Jolivette and actor Brian Lally, the titular ape. It's chatty but a little sleepy, almost as if they strolled into the recording studio at 9:30 AM fueled by half a cup of coffee. Franco does most of the talking, and...I dunno, it's alright. It doesn't make any of the usual commentary mistakes. No big gaps of dead silence. It's not engaging but isn't boring either. It's not hysterically funny but isn't overly serious or agonizingly dry. There wasn't anything I felt compelled to quote for this review, and I found myself occasionally forgetting that I was even listening to an audio commentary. I'll admit to being a bad reviewer and bailing after half an hour, but skimming through the rest, I don't think what I've said is inaccurate. If it is, send me hate mail and I'll write a complete review.

There are also plugs for a few other TLA releases. The DVD features a set of 4x3 animated menus and fourteen chapter stops, and the disc comes packaged in a transparent keepcase with no insert.

Conclusion: Skimming a quick rundown of the movie's plot had me all prepped to write a gushingly positive review, but instead of the gleefully surreal flick I was expecting, I was treated (and you can put sarcastic-finger-quotes around that, if you want) to a surprisingly straightforward, instantly forgettable quasi-comedy. Hey, I like James Franco; he starred in my all-time favorite TV show, and I hope to see more of him both in front of and behind the camera. Still can't recommend The Ape, tho'. Though it's far from awful, there's little about it to make me really want to recommend this DVD. Sorry. If you're determined to see The Ape, Rent It.

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