While it’s true that great children’s films work equally well for adults, what about middling kid flix? If you’re over the age of 10, “Monkey Trouble” isn’t the kind of film you would want to spend much time with. It’s indifferently made--to put it mildly. The microphone actually drops into frame in a couple of scenes.
But it has something going for it that kids will probably eat up. It’s about a 9-year-old girl, Eva Gregory (Thora Birch), who longs for a pet against the wishes of her parents (Mimi Rogers and Christopher McDonald) and ends up with more than she bargained for--a capuchin monkey.
The monkey, whom she nicknames Dodger, literally falls into her path one day while she’s strolling through the park. On the run from the Gypsy (Harvey Keitel) who trained him to pick pockets and loot homes, Dodger becomes Eva’s secret playmate. She keeps her formerly messy room so spic-and-span that her parents never suspect a thing (though her stepfather, allergic to pet fur, can’t explain his sudden sneezing).
Director Franco Amurri and his co-screenwriter Stu Krieger work in a lot of standard storybook elements: Eva has a baby brother she wishes would go away and a stepfather she can’t warm up to. Keitel’s Gypsy is a gold-toothed scalawag who prances after her like he was a reject from a touring company of “Peter Pan.” (Keitel is once again indulging his appetite for grunge, but in kiddie-sized bites.) If the filmmakers had worked some storybook magic into the filmmaking, “Monkey Trouble” might have been a joy.
But they do all right by the monkey, whose real name is Finster and who was trained for the film by Mark Harden. He’s a wizardly little performer, and he’s in practically every scene. And the bond that develops between Eva and Dodger feels just right. It’s a convincing evocation that every kid feels about his first pet.
Thora Birch: Eva
Harvey Keitel: Azro
Mimi Rogers: Amy
A New Line Cinema presentation of a Percy Main production in association with Effe Films Inc. Director Franco Amurri. Producer Mimi Polk & Heidi Rufus Isaacs. Executive producer Ridley Scott. Screenplay Amurri & Stu Krieger. Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. Editor Ray Lovejoy & Chris Peppe. Costumes Eileen Kennedy. Music Mark Mancina. Production design Les Dilley. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG, for a moment of menace. Times guidelines: It includes scenes of a monkey vandalizing a house and some chase scenes that might be scary for very young children. * In general release throughout Southern California.