by David Schuster (with Steve Leventhal)
So what should I do on a Friday night (before going out drinking) on a Friday night in Canton Ohio? Well, I am here covering the Pro Football Hall of fame inductions and since football players are sometimes called neanderthals the newest ape movie seemed appropriate.
I wasn't entirely gung ho in advance about "Rise Of the Planet Of The Apes" but surprisingly (to me) it turned out to be much better then I thought.
Now I'll admit that I saw all the original "Planet of the Apes" flicks which started out great and then got worse and worse. They almost became a parody of themselves after a while and Charlton Heston was smart to get out early. But now comes this latest installment and actually it has nothing to do with the others (thank God). This is actually sort of a re-boot and gets the rotten taste out of your mouth from some of the earlier garbage.
This one starts in San Francisco where determined scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is attempting to come up with a drug that will cure dementia. He initially tries it out on chimpanzees before the experiment goes amok. And even after it breaks down, Franco takes one of the cute little buggers home with him who grows up quick and incredibly intelligent. The little goober can play chess and even knows sign language. Rodman eventually tries the drug on his Alzheimer's stricken father Charles (John Lithgow.)
But of course, cute little monkeys grow up to be strong, powerful apes. Caesar, the chimp is called, has a few run-ins with the next door neighbor, including one where he comes to the aid of Charles. That last confrontation gets Caesar committed to monkey jail, where he is at the mercy of the stereotypical animal handler (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter.)
It is in the primate center where Caesar finally gets to interact with his own species. He quickly learns the law of the jungle, and uses his superior intelligence to become the leader of the apes. The rest of the two hour movie shows how the apes get their revenge on the human captors.
Some of the best acting in the movie is done by the apes. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) dons the monkey suit (literally) in a phenomenal depiction of Caesar. It's hard to tell which of the chimps are real, which are humans as chimps, and which ones are computer generated. By contrast, a lot of the humans are quite stiff in their performances. Franco is nowhere near as compelling as he was in "127 Hours." Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) is the obligatory voice of reason as his veterinarian/girlfriend. David Oyelowo is completely predictable as money first, safety second CFO of the drug company that Rodman works for.
That said, the special effects were terrific, the plot moves at a surprisingly swift pace, and apes are riveting. It was like watching a tense, well pitched playoff baseball game. There were also several nods to the original Apes film throughout the movie. It's well worth watching on the big screen.
Our rating - a home run - three and a half stars.