Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Project Terrible: A*P*E

Welcome back to Project Terrible. Today's movie comes to us from Maynard Morrisey of Maynard's Horror Movie Diary.

What do I say about A*P*E?

It's King Kong, only utterly boring. That's pretty much my review right there. It has the general idea of King Kong--the giant ape captured by man and going on a rampage--but without any of the backstory or any of the heart of the tale.

According to Wikipedia, "A*P*E" stands for "Attacking Primate monstEr," which is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. If you have to take an utterly random letter from one of the words to make your acronym work, your acronym does not work. Get a new one.

Here's the film's concept: A giant ape, captured by Americans of some job or another, is being taken to Disneyland when he suddenly wakes and breaks free near South Korea. Swimming inland, he starts randomly rampaging across the countryside, slaying many while the military fails to stop him largely due to utterly refusing to admit he exists, and later due to a flat-out stupid repeated order from higher-ups to capture the monster rather than kill it. Meanwhile, an American reporter and an American movie star reignite their romance, and a South Korean cop generally helps out tracking the monster. Ultimately, of course, the movie star is kidnapped by the ape, rescued, and rekidnapped, and finally the military gets the kill order.

That's pretty much all there is to it, and honestly, I'm being generous mentioning the reporter and the cop because they're barely relevant.

I don't have a lot to say about this dull film. There's not a lot of movie to discuss. Here's the main issue. You know how King Kong goes? It follows the actress, the first mate of the ship, and the director as they explore a mysterious island filled with ancient creatures, and as the mate and director try to rescue the actress from Kong, who is meanwhile building up our sympathy for him by actually protecting the actress from giant monster after giant monster. When Kong is finally captured and brought to New York, he's actually something of a sympathetic figure in our eyes because we've spent half the movie watching him protect someone we like. So, when he misunderstands the flashbulbs and breaks free to protect the actress again, we can feel sorry for him. He thinks he's protecting his treasured girl--he's a beast, but we feel for him anyway, even as we recognize that he's causing widespread destruction and has to be stopped. It's one of the great bits of cinematic storytelling, raising King Kong above the usual monster movie fare and letting it really play with the audience's hearts. Sure, the beast is destroying everything, but it really feels like it's humanity's fault on some level.

In contrast, A*P*E utterly fails to include the emotional drama with the titular monster. It breaks free in the opening moments of the film, wrestles an oddly-large shark, and immediately goes on a rampage for no apparent reason, smashing up real estate and generally wrecking everything. We're repeatedly told that it has slaughtered countless people (though we rarely if ever see it interact with anyone). It's only late in the movie that it finally captures the actress, and its interaction with her is mostly limited to her screaming her lungs out and it carrying her, or pawing at her while she hides in a cave. Somehow, she ends up feeling sympathy for it anyway. I sure didn't. Once she's rescued, she's taken to Seoul, and it wrecks Seoul to get to her, kidnaps her again, and is finally attacked by the military.

The actress actually asks, "Why? Why?" The reporter replies, "It was too big for a small world like ours."

You know how I would write that scene? Here.
  • Actress: "Why? Why?"
  • Reporter: "Because it killed a hell of a lot of people, smashed villages all over the country, and wrecked Seoul. I'm glad it's dead. Get over it. Let's go get some excellent Korean chicken."
...now I want to go to Pei Wei for some Spicy Korean chicken. I'm going to blame this movie for that too.

All kidding aside, that's the film's problem! It asks us to sympathize with the ape, like we did with Kong, but the ape isn't a protective "noble animal" in this film...it's a savage beast that attacks smaller creatures with little to no real provocation and attempts to destroy an entire country. It's like if a film tried to make us feel sympathy for (to avoid Godwin's law), Ted Bundy. And you know what? I could see a film able to do that on some level--not hugely, mind, but at least a little--if it focused on his upbringing or something. But this? This is like starting from Bundy's serial killings and just going on from there, and having someone say, "Oh, why? Why did they execute poor Ted Bundy?"

I could talk about the terrible effects, the fact that the ape is clearly just a guy in a monkey suit wandering around flimsily-built models of villages and cities, the incredibly repetitive soundtrack, the fact that the ape is rarely shown in the same shot as a person and yet is said to have killed many...but really, while those are indeed all part of the problem, they're not the heart of it. The heart of the problem is that the film fails to imitate King Kong in the most critical way. It fails to build sympathy for its "Kong."

So, with that out of the way, let me run down a few of the other issues and oddities this film has:
  • It has one heck of a predictable and boring formula. Ape shows up at Location X, and either wrecks things or does something odd. Military commander gets call and acts flabbergasted. Rinse and repeat. Occasionally, the film throws in the reporter driving around with the cop, or another incidental scene, but that's the film in a nutshell. Ape destroying stuff, military commander being weak and useless. Again...and again...and again.
A*P*E versus Megashark! There. I just wrote the next Asylum film.
  • The apparent size of the ape seems to change throughout the film. At some points he towers over buildings or holds adult humans in his hands, at others he wrestles what I'm guessing is a normal-sized shark or shoves a South Korean...uh...some kind of big tree snake...do they have pythons in South Korea? Anyway, it's nearly his size, but no one mentions a monster snake. The point being, sometimes he's towering, and other times he just seems to be a little bit bigger than a normal ape.
  • It's amazing how many people are oblivious to the ape's presence. The two most amazing scenes in this light are a playground scene and the movie star's capture scene. 
    • At the playground, a bunch of kids are playing while the ape is standing nearby, watching. These kids are running every which way, as kids do, and their teacher comes to the playground to collect them, looking around and gathering the kids to her. It's like 3 or 4 minutes of this, with a giant ape just hanging out nearby, not hidden or anything, and then finally, one kid goes to take one last slide before they go back to class, and looks the same way everyone else must have already looked as some point, and spots the ape and screams. Wow.
    • The movie star's capture is almost better. They're shooting a scene in which the girl is fighting off a rapist ("Remember, rape her gently" is actually a line from the director, which is just...I mean, who actually puts that in a movie? Did Tim and Eric write this?), and the cameraman kind of sees something in the background of a shot, so they have to reshoot. During the reshoot, the girl runs along her appointed path, into a perfectly open area where she should have a very clear view of her surroundings, and manages to run directly into the ape's open hand. What an idiot.
  • The film namedrops King Kong, more than once. Characters make reference to the fact that events in the film are similar to those in King Kong. That's pretty ballsy. That'd be like the Asylum making one of its mockbusters, say...Transmorphers, and having a character say, "This is just like in Transformers!"
    • If they actually did that, I wouldn't be surprised.
  • There's a wonderful scene in which the ape encounters a hang glider, and starts actually playing with the person by effectively juggling person and glider with one hand. I'm pretty sure the laws of physics went all loopy in that scene, but it's pretty hilarious to watch. The ape starts clapping as the glider finally flies away, too, so it's...kind of sympathetic? I don't know. Still pretty likely to kill somebody, though.
  • There's an even more wonderful scene where the ape stumbles on a movie set for a martial arts film. South Korean martial arts actors must be the biggest badasses in the world, because they immediately grab bows and arrows and start shooting fire arrows at this 36-foot ape. And then some more of them grab a giant log and use it on the ape like a battering ram! The scene just kind of cuts, so I have no idea if they drove him off or if he killed them, but it's a hilarious scene. Utterly ruins any kind of suspense or fear the creature might inspire, mind, but it's hilarious.

  • There's really no reason the plot should go on for as long as it does. It takes a good 40 minutes or so, if I recall, for the military higher-ups to give the colonel an order to capture the thing rather than killing it. Before that point, he doesn't order an attack against the thing because...reasons, that's why. I would get it if it were spending the entire movie in downtown Seoul and he was worried about collateral damage, but there are several points where it is clearly in the middle of the countryside or stumbling around evacuated villages, and you could really easily send in some heavy firepower and kill it dead. By the time the top brass called to tell the colonel not to kill it, the ape should have been dead 50 times over. This isn't something that has nuclear breath that annihilates armies. It's a big monkey. Blow it up.
  • As much as the colonel is generally a moron in this film, he does have some fun lines. There's one bit where he's stressing out and gets a cigarette, and one of his underlings comes up to remind him reporters are waiting. "To hell with the press...I'm gonna smoke this god damn cigarette." Honestly, it was an awful role, but at least the actor was clearly having some fun with it.
  • At one point the ape actually...you know, I'll just show you.

There's nothing else to say, really. This was a formulaic, boring monster movie that ripped off King Kong, and highlighted the fact that it was doing so, without understanding any of what made King Kong a good film. It had none of the adventure and none of the emotion of the classic film it was copying, and aside from one or two weirdly funny scenes, was an utter waste of time.

...which makes them look like blithering idiots. Not our armed force's finest hour, this.

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