Buddy - * 1/2*

Hollywood just can’t escape the man in the gorilla suit, no matter how grateful the rest of the world would be. The latest film to fall victim to this evil menace is Buddy, a children’s film that purports to examine the line between man and beast.

Based on a true story, Buddy tells the tale of Gertrude Lintz (Rene Russo), an eccentric New York socialite in the 1920s. Well, to rephrase that, it doesn’t really tell her tale. In fact, the fact that she’s eccentric is pretty much a given. She has a house full of exotic animals which she treats like her children. None of which seems to phase her husband Bill (Robbie Coltrane). One day, Trudy brings a sickly gorilla baby into the house, and nurtures him back to health. This is Buddy, and the film follows him as he grows from cute anamatronic baby to the infamous hulking man in a gorilla suit.

Naturally, this introduces plenty of slapstick opportunities as the gorilla tries to be human but just doesn’t quite fit in. Watch Buddy break a chair as he sits down! Watch Buddy serve food to uncomfortable houseguests! Watch Buddy trip and fall! And if a mere gorilla in the household didn’t possess enough humor potential, there are four trouble prone chimpanzees. Watch the chimps rollerskate! Watch them toss butcher knives around the kitchen! See them drive the housekeeper (Irma P. Hall) mad! Watch them escape! Watch them escape again! Watch them escape yet again! See, the laughs are just nonstop.

As for Gertrude Lintz, the film never provides a truly adequate explanation for her. Is she insane? Does she have a secret agenda for attempting to raise human-like animals? Is she interested in animal psychology? Rather, the film presents her attitudes and actions as normal and unremarkable. Well, if you had lots and lots of money, wouldn’t you raise monkeys as if they were your own children too?

Rene Russo plays the role in a familiar and uninspired manner, but she, like the other human actors, doesn’t have much to work with. At least her part is more substantial than Irma P. Hall’s housekeeper, or Alan Cumming’s harried assistant. Robbie Coltrane portray’s Gertrude’s husband in such a calm and accepting manner that if this weren’t a kid flick, you’d expect him to turn and strangle his wife any second.

As far as the animals go, at least they’re well trained. The chimps do some complex tasks, particularly in their escape sequences. Now, if only those tasks were interesting, there might be a good movie here. Alas, they are used here for mere noise and bluster. Buddy’s animatronics are above normal, but rarely convincing to the point where you believe you are watching a real gorilla.

Small kids may like the film just to see the various animals scamper to and fro. However, nature films are a dime a dozen, and most are better than this. Older kids and adults will be bored by the actions of animals and humans alike.

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