Courtesy Photo
*** 117 minutes | Rated: PG
Opened: Friday, December 25, 1998
Directed by Ron Underwood

Starring Charlize Theron, Bill Paxton, Rade Sherbedgia, Peter Firth, David Paymer, Regina King, Robert Wisdon, Naveen Andrews & Linda Purl


Definately an entertaining video either way, but scale and vista-heavy photography will definately loose impact in pan & scan.

Enjoyable 'Joe Young' overcomes endless gimmicks, loopholes, cliches

By Rob Blackwelder

If you examine "Mighty Joe Young" closely, it's a sloppy, pandering movie riddled with sophomoric filmmaking and idiotic loopholes that could have easily been avoided. But somehow this family film about a giant ape and his pretty young protector is the kind of picture you gladly set aside your common sense to enjoy.

My notes from the film were full of complaints and smart remarks (Where does a girl whose lived all her life in the African jungle get a salon perm and a Limited Express wardrobe?), but in spite of my rash of earnest objections, I ultimately forgave them all and left the theater with a big smile on my face.

An updated and politically correct remake of a 1949 movie about a giant ape liquored up and running loose after breaking away from his nightclub act captors, this new "Might Joe" stars lovely Charlize Theron ("The Devil's Advocate," "Celebrity") as Jill Young, the primate-friendly, jungle-raised daughter of a nature photographer who was killed by poachers when Jill was a child.

On that fateful night, Jill bonded with a child ape she named Joe, whose mother met the same fate after Joe bit off the poacher's fingers. The movie takes place 12 years later when these two live as mythical guardians of a jungle threatened more than ever by poachers. Enter Bill Paxton as an Indy Jones-styled researcher in an old Banana Republic wardrobe who has come to this jungle to collect blood samples from rare animals for no discernible reason, and is particularly interested in finding and protecting this legendary giant ape that no one has ever seen.

With an increasing number of lawless, profit-hungry hunters encroaching on Joe's habitat, Jill takes up the researcher's offer to move him to a nature sanctuary, unbelievably located on prime real estate just outside of Los Angeles (and apparently dedicated to preserving computer-generated movie animals).

As Joe and Jill try to adjust to restricted space and civilization, the suits that run the preserve see the 15-foot primate as a fund-raising tool and prepare for a large party at which they'll dangle him in front of wealthy contributors. Meanwhile, Joe's recent notoriety has garnered the attention of the sinister, mustache-twisting, finger-deficient poacher (Rade Sherbedgia, "The Saint"), now a major player on the endangered species black market, who finagles an invite to the party with plans to kidnap Joe.

Directed by Ron Underwood ("City Slickers," "Speechless"), large chunks of "Mighty Joe Young" depend on gimmicks, loopholes or cliches, and more than once it insults the audience's intelligence with symbolism overkill. Example: After establishing the poacher's missing fingers in an at least a dozen close-ups, Underwood's use of a flashback when Joe comes face-to-face with him is painfully redundant.

Underwood is guilty of other excesses as well. I could swear five minutes of the movie is taken up with boom shots of surprised-looking extras watching as Joe inevitably wreaks havoc on Hollywood Blvd. after crashing out of his habitat under the baiting by the poacher and his henchman.

But in spite of a catalog of shortcomings, it's hard to resist the movie's infectious spirit.

This is, in part, due to Joe himself -- an animatronic with such remarkable vivacity and personality that even in close-ups he comes across as an intelligent, sensitive creature. Even though he is sometimes computer-generated (which is a little less convicing), you have to work at it to remember he's merely a concoction of master monster maker Rick Baker.

Charlize Theron also contributes to the picture's endearing essence. She is an actress with an irresistible mix of strength of character, coquetteishness, savvy, passion and wide-eyed giddiness that she puts to excellent use in a very modern, can-do female role.

Unfortunately, Paxton is the movie's weak acting link. A good casting choice as an adventurer, he's in over his head in the contrived sub-plot l'amore and his romancing of Theron is flavorless at best.

Underwood finally takes "Mighty Joe Young" completely overboard in the last act when, after a thrilling chase scene through LA's canal system, Joe invades a seaside carnival. The climax includes a raging fire and a child trapped at the top of the Ferris wheel, in addition to the requisite pandemonium created by a 15-foot ape running around the place, being chased by a mad poacher, a helicopter and a dozen police cars. Enough, already!

But again, this superfluousness somehow does the movie no serious harm. Simply stated, "Mighty Joe Young" is a just a great family movie whole lot of fun -- if you can check your cynicism and reason at the door.

powered by FreeFind
SPLICEDwire home
Online Film Critics Society
All Rights Reserved
Return to top
Current Reviews
SPLICEDwire Home