Charles Gemora. While faaaaaaaar from a household name, Gemora holds the distinction of being the world’s greatest “man in an ape outfit” actor ever to grace the silver screen, appearing as a ape/gorilla/chimpanzee in over twenty films. However, despite Gemora’s wide range of films, from horror to comedy, none of his various incarnations found themselves in a movie quite like “The Ape”. An offbeat debut feature by actor turned director James Franco, “The Ape” deals with Harry (Franco) a frustrated writer who moves away from his family into an apartment in order to clear his head only to find that a large, Hawaiian shirt wearing ape (Brian Lally) already lives there.
When not writing, Harry works for the human resources department at the phone company and feels stifled by his job, his boss Kathy (Allison Bibicoff) and his homelife. As pointed out by the none too subtle ape, Harry is not much of a writer or a man for that matter, seeing how he is unable to accept his base urges. At the ape’s prompting, Harry steps up to his wife (Nori Jill Phillips), beds his boss and manages to finally get some writing done. While the new freer lifestyle is refreshing at first, Harry is quick to realize that following an ape’s advice may not be the best of moves.
As a first time director, Franco is to be commended for his odd choice of subject matter. The film gleefully jumps into the deep end and has a confidence about it that most filmmakers could take a cue from. Yet, despite Franco’s best efforts, “The Ape” fails to pay off. For being such a strange premise the story seems surprisingly predictable. The ape’s advice, Harry’s reactions to the ape’s advice and the subsequent punchline are all telegraphed a mile away. The film veers off at times on tangents such as the bosses attempts at internet dating (Rendejew.com, the Jewish dating service) or a five minute scene between two of Harry’s co-workers who have no real connection to the central plot. While their discussion is meant to comment on Harry’s personality shift, the scene is obviously out of place seeing how just about every moment before and after involves Harry.
“The Ape” seems to coast along on its great premise instead of taking the central idea and running with it. Franco and Lally’s interplay is definitely amusing and Bibicoff brings a great bitchy yet vulnerable quality to her Kathy but one wishes their performances could have been present in a tighter film. While not as good as it could have been, “The Ape” shows a tremendous amount of potential for future projects. Currently, Franco is finishing up his second feature film, “Fool*s Gold,” that will hopefully have a stronger story coupled with the wonderful energy present in “The Ape”.