Mighty Joe Young (1998)
Directed by Ron Underwood

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* *

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When Gregg O'Hara (Bill Paxton), who works for some environmental conservancy, convinces Jill Young (Charlize Theron), the daughter of a primate researcher, to transport Joe, a giant gorilla, to California for his own protection, the two of them create far more problems for the ape than they solve. Having arrived at his new home, Joe attacks the guests at a fund raising dinner and is confined to a cage, where he becomes depressed and refuses to eat. Fearing for their hirsute friend's life, Gregg and Jill smuggle Joe out of his prison, only to let him escape and, subsequently, run amok through the streets of Hollywood, where he is pursued by a murderous poacher.

Ron Underwood's Mighty Joe Young is a completely forgettable movie. The acting ranges from soporific to embarrassing; the story is predictable and manipulative, and visually, except for the genuinely impressive effects used to create Joe himself, the film is utterly banal.


The performances of all the actors are hammy and frequently grating. Theron's pouty weeping over Joe's incarceration, for example, instead of arousing the viewer's sympathy, is more likely to make him wretch at the false sentimentality with which he is being bombarded. Rade Serbedzija's portrayal of the evil poacher is completely laughable, and Bill Paxton is entirely unmemorable.

Admittedly, the narrative the actors had to attempt to bring to life is so hackneyed and uninventive that it is hardly surprising they failed. The story is gratingly trite. Joe, of course, is a sweet natured but sadly misunderstood creature. Even his rampage through Hollywood is motivated by fear, not by any desire to do anybody any hurt. In fact, he never really injures anyone, except the fiendish villain, who, as a bad person, deserves a horrible death. The big ape even takes the time to save a stranded moppet trapped atop a burning Ferris Wheel. How sweet.

I must, however, concede that while the movie is about as memorable visually as is the average made for television drama, Joe himself is skillfully brought to life. He really is amazing to see. The giant gorilla is so lifelike that he is able to keep the viewer's attention despite the presence of the oceans of treacle in which he is submerged.

Overall, Mighty Joe Young is, nevertheless, a forgettable, uninspired, and sickeningly saccharine film that really is best avoided.

Review by Keith Allen

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