'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' review: An awkward mix of scary and stupid

RedEye movie critic

**1/2 (out of four)

San Francisco scientist Will (James Franco) is just trying to develop a drug that will cure Alzheimer’s, specifically in his father (John Lithgow). Will’s certainly not trying to create an army of super-intelligent chimpanzees that band together to conquer mankind. But you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell.

The buzz: At last this CGI-filled prequel can answer the nagging question from fans of the 1968 film: How did this ape society get started? The franchise has been napping since Tim Burton’s 2001 “Planet of the Apes” remake, and the writers of “Rise” have been off the job for even longer. Last script: 1997’s “The Relic.” Yeesh.

The verdict: Either make the apes’ progression of power intense and frightening or ridiculous and fun. Trying for both doesn’t work, and “Rise” frustratingly hops between serious sci-fi and campy, go-for-broke absurdity. (I’m talking about a chimp riding a horse here.) The effects, however, are fantastic. Forget the full-body ape suits of the past; pairing CGI with performance capture whiz Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” and acted out Will’s main chimp Caesar before graphics took over) creates excellently believable animals … until Caesar speaks and leads his cronies like a combination war general-mob boss. Disposable, unintelligent human characters (including Freida Pinto as Will’s love interest and Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton as an irresponsible chimp watchman) only reinforce our species' susceptibility to overthrow-by-ape. Be prepared!

Did you know? The great documentary “Project Nim” recently chronicled the real-life study that proved chimps can’t, in fact, be taught and trusted to behave like humans. Which is exactly why we should study the effects of controversial drugs on them!

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

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