MOVIE REVIEW : A Pleasing Allen and Assante Can’t Save ‘Animal Behavior’


There’s a warm sensibility and an engaging cast in “Animal Behavior” (opening today at the Century Plaza Cinemas and Edwards Island Cinema, Newport Beach), but it’s too slight to recommend it. Dusted off after three years on the shelf since its completion, it’s the kind of film you want to like--and wish there was more to it to like.

The ads are misleading, overemphasizing Holly Hunter’s importance in the film. It’s not Hunter but a chimpanzee who is standing in the way of Karen Allen and Armand Assante falling in love. Allen is Alex Bristow, a psychologist at a New Mexico university who is so intensely absorbed in an interspecies study with her adorable chimp, Michael, that she tries to persuade herself that she has no time for love, even though she is as attracted to Assante’s Mark Mathias, the new music professor, as he is to her. Even though “Animal Behavior” was directed by two people, Jenny Bowen and Kjehl Rasmussen, the film’s producer who replaced her, its problem seems mainly in Susan Rice’s undeveloped script. Allen and Assante seem to keep playing the same scene over and over, with Alex pushing away Mark in the name of work. “Animal Behavior” is too talky by a mile yet it seems superficial. Throughout, there is the feeling that the film makers never quite decided how seriously to take Alex’s research project or her attachment to Michael. We’re never quite sure whether the chimp is, on some level, Mark’s rival or whether Alex is simply a workaholic.

Allen and Assante are so terrific together you regret that “Animal Behavior,” goes for whimsy and sentimentality rather than the screwball humor and sophistication of “Bringing Up Baby.”

Holly Hunter, who made this film before “Broadcast News,” has only a small role as Assante’s good ol’ gal neighbor, who has a mute little daughter taught to sign by the chimp. Actually, Josh Mostel has more to do as Mark’s breezy sidekick, an art professor, and Richard Libertini scores as Alex’s arrogant, jealous superior, a nasty academic with whom she had a fling when she was his student.


Unfortunately, ‘Animal Behavior” (rated PG) is filled with repetitive and inane humor, culminating in a silly and contrived ending. It’s not enough that Allen and Assante are such a pleasure.