`Malkovich' follow-up just doesn't measure up

Movie reviews

April 12, 2002

Rated R * * 1/2

Human Nature, a twisted comedy about an ape man, a woman with excessive body hair and a behavioral scientist trying to teach table manners to mice, is clearly a product of the same off-kilter sensibilities that produced Being John Malkovich (both films were written by Charlie Kaufman).

It's also nowhere near as good.

Kaufman's follow-up to his amazing debut (Malkovich was one of the best films of 1999) centers on a bizarre love triangle. Tim Robbins is Nathan Bronfman, a behaviorist whose sole aim is to prove that nothing is more important than civility and proper etiquette.

Patricia Arquette's Lila Jute, on the other hand, is cursed with raging hormones that result in hair covering her entire body. She long ago abandoned society and went to live in the wild, among primates for whom body hair is considered quite the plus. But now she's re-entered society -- certain sexual thirsts have for too-long gone unquenched -- and become friends with a hair-removal specialist.

The third point of Kaufman's triangle is Puff (Rhys Ifans), a man raised by apes. Nathan sees him as the way to prove his theories; teach him the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork, and there's no reason Puff can't become one of the world's beautiful people (think Pygmalion as written by Edgar Rice Burroughs). Lila sees him as a kindred spirit.

One gets the feeling watching this that Kaufman never really got the script to gel in his mind. While director Michel Gondry keeps the mood light and the pacing subversively languid (like its characters, the film always seems a beat slow), Kaufman seems unsure where he wants to take things. His script for Malkovich opened doors (sometimes literally) into places no movie had gone before; Human Nature seems content to recycle old nature-vs.-nurture jokes and laugh at the idea of an ape man trying to learn civility (Puff's big challenge is learning to suppress his sexual urges).

Not that the movie isn't funny; some bits are truly side-splitting. But the overall impression is of a series of skits built on a single theme, which makes Human Nature a great episode of Saturday Night Live, but a mediocre film. -- Chris Kaltenbach

Other Side of Heaven

Rated PG * *

The Other Side of Heaven is pleasant and diverting, but also shallow and simplistic -- a mixed bag that should infuriate those who want movies to challenge their interests or honestly affect their emotions, but should thrill parents looking for a safe film the entire family can go see.

Christopher Gorham is a young Mormon missionary named John Groberg, who in the early 1950s is sent to the South Seas island of Tonga. There, he encounters predictable measures of resistance to both his ideas (the leader of the established religion, whose tenets are never quite explained, is far from welcoming) and his presence as a foreigner.

But soon, thanks to hard work, tenacity and lots of boyish charm, he wins them over.

Heaven works primarily thanks to Gorham (TV's Popular), who works as hard as his character and proves just as likable. Anne Hathaway, so enchanting in The Princess Diaries, is given little to do -- other than look beautiful and dreamy in a frilly white nightgown -- as his fiancee back in the states.

There's not a challenge Groberg encounters that he isn't able to overcome, even bringing the dead back to life. Which leaves little for the audience to get excited about; faith and tenacity can be wonderful traits, but it feels naive to assume they alone can win the day. Heaven wants to be inspiring, but even kids will suspect there's more to this story than what is on-screen. -- Chris Kaltenbach

Porn Star

Unrated * * 1/2

He's the most famous male porn star in the world, but all Ron Jeremy really wants is a hug. Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy exposes the squat, hairy troll of a man, known affectionately as "the Hedgehog," as an insecure attention seeker.

The documentary from first-time director Scott J. Gill offers an often amusing, often sad profile of an instantly recognizable but infinitely lonely man.

But Gill is clearly a fan, as evidenced by interviews with guys who describe Jeremy as the "Elvis" of the adult film industry. "Everybody wants to be Ron Jeremy," says one, starry-eyed. But why? Gill's too busy collecting praise for Jeremy to answer.

Jeremy has had amazing success, appearing in some 1,600 adult films, directing 100 others. But what he really wants is mainstream acceptance.

Jeremy, 48, rhapsodizes about the late '70s and early '80s, when adult films were "a production," and in all seriousness compares his technique to Lee Strasberg's. "It's really acting at its all-time best," Jeremy says of his ability to prolong sex scenes.

Associated Press

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