Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ape Shit: "The Ape" (2006)

Actor James Franco makes his directorial debut with a pretentious film that only works as an office comedy.

Harry (James Franco) is a frustrated novelist who worships Dostoevsky but has little time to write. He leaves his wife and son temporarily and moves into a New York City apartment. Not reading the lease's fine print, Harry finds himself living with a talking Ape (Brian Lally). Harry begins to accept Ape, who begins to help Harry see his life and relationships differently.

Franco also cowrote the play the film is based on, but every scene involving the Ape fails miserably. Wisely, the film makers merely put an ape mask on actor Brian Lally, letting the audience find its own reality in the main plot. This "Theatre of the Absurd" struggles to its foregone conclusion, and the scenes and characters equally grate.

The scenes that do score center around Harry's relationship with office crush Beth (Stacey Miller) and boss Cathy (Allison Bibicoff). Harry is stuck in a dead end job in the human resources department at a telephone company. As the Ape feeds Harry bravado and confidence, Harry's behavior at work changes. I believe Franco's performance is better in these scenes, too, when he hits the broad comedy.

Franco's direction is very good. He has a nice eye for little details (the workplace lice outbreak announcements, Dostoevsky quotes reflecting Harry's situation), but the script is dead on arrival.

If "The Ape" had dropped the title character, and morphed into a short film about office politics, it might have worked. If a coworker told you about his talking ape roommate, that would be funnier and stranger than actually seeing said ape. I do look forward to more behind the camera work from Franco, though. (* *) out of five stars.