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Ape (1976)
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by Jay Seaver

"Not weird enough to be a memorable King Kong rip-off."
2 stars

You think weird things watching a random B-movie like "Ape", like how many of the giant-ape movies to come after it used CGI models based on real apes while the ones before used guys in suits or stop-motion and thus had human gaits, and this one often has its ape hunched over but not actually able to get its knuckles to the ground, like they kind of wanted to do better but, oh well, whatever. It's lazy and cheap, but sometimes just bizarre enough in how that pans out to kind of be fun.

It's flagrant in being a King Kong rip-off, although it basically starts with its 36-foot-tall ape chained up in the hold of a ship, being brought across the Pacific to be shown off at Disneyland. It wakes up early and angry, though, capsizing the ship and making its way to the coast of South Korea. Meanwhile, in Seoul, reporter Tom Rose (Rod Arrants) is surprising his actress girlfriend Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns) at the airport, having wangled the assignment to report on her first international role. It's not his first time here, which is fortunate, because it means he knows Captain Kim (Lee Nak-Hun) of the local police and can ride along as he and U.S. Army Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) try and figure out what the heck you do in this situation.

Writer/director Paul Leder gets right to the movie's main draw first, as the nameless giant ape wrestles with a rubber shark and then stomps on some miniatures, and while it never looks close to real - and to make things worse, it's shot in 3D in such a way that one's depth perception immediately reveals the proper scale when viewed that way. This stuff is, nevertheless, still kind of a blast, the kind of kaiju destruction that the audience can enjoy just a bit more because it's fake enough to reassure one that nobody gets hurt even as the first glance makes it feel real. It's lazy and sloppy enough to be frustrating, but there's also a peculiar meta joy to it, where one snickers at the ape flailing at helicopters that just aren't there and thus feeling like it's a victory when one gets in range and he smashes the hell out of that toy.

The whole movie is that sort of mess, not just cheap but stupidly so, like when Tom is pointing things out to Marilyn without getting an B-roll, or the way none of the ape bits seem to be connected, or how nothing anybody does ever makes a lick of sense. It's so comfortable being a King Kong rip-off that it often doesn't need much reason to do something other than "they did it in that other movie", and the ape's fights with giant sharks and snakes make one wonder whether such super-sized mutations are common in the film's world or if the filmmakers just didn't think this through. The laziness is much more apparent with the miniature city demolished at the end, with all the signage in Chinese despite the film taking place in South Korea.

Luckily, there are enough people having fun with the thing that it doesn't become completely insulting, which is kind of impressive, because most of the time when people try to get clever despite messing up the basics just make them look worse. Leder at least makes a few amusing detours as he inserts himself as the director of Marilyn's film - I have no doubt that he has had to sincerely ask actors to be gentle while filming a rape scene - and the cast is in large part just good enough: Rod Arrants and Lee Nak-Hoon are are pleasant without being bland, Alex Nicol does a bit better than mailing it in, and Joanna Kerns (using maiiden name "Joanna DeVarona") does okay for the sort of B-movie most actresses will eventually try to ignore.

There are enough movies with giant apes wreaking havoc out there that this one is mostly of interest for 3D enthusiasts; it's just not good enough at anything else to really stand out. "Ape" occasionally gets cock-eyed enough to be entertaining, but not enough to be a major part of the kaiju canon.

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originally posted: 05/09/20 02:03:06
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  N/A (PG)
  DVD: 30-Oct-2001



Directed by
  Paul Leder

Written by
  Paul Leder
  Reuben Leder

  Rod Arrants
  Joanna Kerns
  Alex Nicol
  Nak-hun Lee
  Yeon-jeong Woo

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