The Austin Chronicle

Monkey Trouble

Directed by Franco Amurri. Starring Thora Birch, Mimi Rogers, Christopher McDonald, Harvey Keitel.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 25, 1994

What's Harvey Keitel doing in a family entertainment movie? Having a very good time, as it turns out. The improbable casting allows Keitel to show off a broad comic side previously obscured by his more dyspeptic personifications. The movie is notable for its excellent characterizations by all the performers including that of a well-trained capuchin monkey who appears in almost every scene. It's tempting to say that the monkey steals the show but its finely honed performance is typical of the care and thoughtful execution that has gone into this movie. The story is pretty simple, though it may be a little complicated for the youngest viewers. A young girl Eva (Birch) feels ignored by her mother and stepfather who seemingly devote themselves to her baby brother. Eva wants a pet but her stepfather is terribly allergic to animal dander. Shorty (Keitel) is a Venice Beach boardwalk showman who has taught his trained monkey to pick pockets while clowning for the crowds. The monkey runs away from Shorty and literally drops into Eva's life. Eva hides the animal from her family and friends while Shorty combs the town looking for his accessory to crime. Just as Eva discovers her pet's criminal bent, she herself is accused of larceny by her police lieutenant stepfather (McDonald -- the rejected husband in Thelma & Louise). Shorty also catches up with her and places Eva in danger. The whole thing is handled with a comic flair though the danger and the child's anguish have a, nevertheless, realistic flavor. Birch's nuanced performance (a rarity amongst child performers) no doubt lends Monkey Trouble its realistic touch. As the mom, Rogers is believable as the mother caught between her child and her new husband. McDonald adds an understated comic element as the cop who can't see the crime happening right under his nose. The movie has an unnecessary subplot about a gang of other criminals and a few elements that won't stand close scrutiny. But there's a nice balance between the sense of threat invoked by rotten scoundrels and the learned moral values of responsibility and family unity. Monkey Trouble, though it may be too advanced for the youngest viewers, is a piece of family entertainment that kids and their parents will both be able to enjoy.

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