1999, Movie, R, 126 mins


Oh, the mysteries of the Hollywood production process, whereby a contemplative novel about a philosophical gorilla musing on man's relationship to the natural world (Daniel Quinn's award-winning Ishmael) becomes a movie about a mute primatologist in a snakepit-like loony bin. Dr. Ethan Powell (Anthony Hopkins) was once a world renowned specialist in the study of apes, a man who regularly abandoned his family so he could study gorillas in the wild. Now he looks like Charles Manson and is shadowed by the rumor that he went wacko in the Rwandan jungle where he was actually living with gorillas. Convicted of murder, Powell has been extradited to the US so he can be locked up in what looks like the same hellhole where Dr. Lecter was doing his time. This being a movie deeply steeped in the ironies of modern life, said hellhole is named Harmony Bay. Enter ambitious young psychiatrist Dr. Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who smells in this bizarre situation the sort of best-seller that could save him from the tedium of treating run-of-the-mill neurotics and open a door to the big time (lucrative stints as a court-appointed psychiatric expert, consulting gigs for movies and TV shows and the like). His first challenge is to get Dr. Powell to speak. His second, to which he does not rise, is to get him to shut up: Hopkins is a fine actor whose work is much finer when he isn't encouraged to soliloquize. In the hands of director John Turteltaub and writer Gerald DiPego, this material plays even worse than it sounds. In search of inspiration and the human spirit triumphant, they managed to cook up a pot of sanctimonious, reductive claptrap (which the credits confess was only "inspired" by Quinn's book) that's not in the least instructive or entertaining. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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