You always have to be careful when approaching a movie involving gorillas. Things can quickly turn ugly, and you can be left with something resembling Congo or (shudder) Buddy. However, every now and then, you’ll run across a Gorillas in the Mist, or even a King Kong. That time is not now. Instinct thoroughly wastes a talented cast, and quickly dissolves into a mishmash of wayward plots and overpuffed intentions.
Anthony Hopkins plays Professor Ethan Powell, a noted anthropologist who gets bitten by a radioactive gorilla, and transforms into the super-powered ApeMan, set to wreak justice upon the evil “Takers”. Well, not really…but that would probably be a more logical and much more entertaining film than Instinct.
What Prof. Powell does become is an inhuman killer, after spending two years in the wild with a tribe of gorillas (presumably none of them are radioactive, though we can always dream). Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Theo Caulder, a psychiatrist out to make a name for himself by probing Powell’s primitive psyche.
Or at least that’s what the film is presumably about. There are so many digressions into the exploits of the colorful, yet murderous, inmates of the prison, the cruelty of the prison guards, the strained relationship between Powell and his daughter, Lyn (Maura Tierney), and even an entire “nature-good, man-bad” subplot, that is is easy to lose track. Not that you’d be missing much.
Watching the film, you feel like there must have been a war between screenwriters, each with a completely different agenda. However, the film boasts only one writer, Gerald DiPego. However, when you take into consideration that in the film’s inspiration, Daniel Quinn’s novel, Ishmael, Anthony Hopkins’ character was actually a talking gorilla, something just doesn’t seem right. Somewhere between book and script there was a nuclear meltdown, and the screenplay never recovered.
Anthony Hopkins, who is about as infallible as actors get these days, delivers a careless performance. Most of the time, he merely apes his infamous Hannibal Lecter role. For the rest of the film, he reverts to a glowering catatonic state. He’s hardly a riveting figure for the film’s two hours.
Cuba Gooding Jr. doesn’t uphold his end of the film, either. His character is so endlessly boyishly exuberant that it’s irritating. And those two are the best drawn characters in the film. Everyone else is either entirely motiveless, or placed in the movie simply for color.
Director Jon Turteltaub directs this movie as if Ethan Powell had the most important message mankind has yet to hear. It is such a portentous buildup that it actually becomes quite a letdown when we learn that it is merely the umpteenth remix of the ol’ “Let’s Get Back to Nature” ideal.
Smug, solemn and somnolent, Instinct is never as good as it tries to be. Most of the time, it’s far far worse. Civilization does have its faults. This movie is one of them.