MVP: Most Valuable Primate

As bad a year as this has been for grown-up movies, pics for tots have been no better, and the paltry "MVP: Most Valuable Primate" marks the latest bottom in a sliding market. Demonstrating that smart studios succeed as much by what they avoid as what they back, Disney was an original producing partner on this minor family project with the producers of the "Air Bud" franchise, only to exit when the Mouse correctly pegged new pic as strictly for the vid shelf.

With:
Jack - Bernie, Mac, Louie Steven Westover - Kevin Zegers Tara Westover - Jamie Renee Smith Darren - Russell Ferrier Coach Marlowe - Rick Ducommun Dr. Peabody - Oliver Muirhead Dr. Kendall - Lomax Study

As bad a year as this has been for grown-up movies, pics for tots have been no better, and the paltry “MVP: Most Valuable Primate” marks the latest bottom in a sliding market. Demonstrating that smart studios succeed as much by what they avoid as what they back, Disney was an original producing partner on this minor family project with the producers of the “Air Bud” franchise, only to exit when the Mouse correctly pegged new pic as strictly for the vid shelf. With just a few laughs triggered by a trio of well-trained, expressive chimps sharing the role of a wily primate able to lead a hapless minor league hockey club to a championship, yarn will be followed by only the youngest of viewers through three dull periods.

Waking up in what appears to be a suburban bedroom, human-like chimp Jack rolls out of bed, showers, preps java and makes breakfast — all for the benefit of an animal behavior class led by ailing prof Dr. Kendall (Lomax Study) at San Diego’s Pueblo University. Kendall’s plans to relocate Jack to his original wildlife-refuge home are awkwardly intercut with the Westover family settling into their new Nelson, British Columbia, home — young, deaf Tara (Jamie Renee Smith), not feeling accepted by her classmates, and older bro Steven (Kevin Zegers) joining the dreadful Nelson Nuggets Junior D League puck squad.

Through ridiculous circumstances, Jack’s goofy pal, Darren (Russell Ferrier), gets the chimp on a train for the refuge after Kendall dies, but Jack oversleeps and ends up at the end of the line in Nelson, where sooner than you can say “plot point,” the hairy fella makes contact with Tara and then with Steven. The able ape miraculously possesses skills on the ice, though the inept and obviously speeded-up filming of Jack on skates and wielding a stick destroys the illusion for anyone over age 6.

With Jack on fire, the Nuggets winning and all well in Nelson, pic wears a terminal happy face except for the bogus presence of antagonist Dr. Peabody (Oliver Muirhead), dean who oversees Pueblo’s science research and is obsessed with nabbing Jack for his lab value. The scattered adventure is sent permanently into the penalty box during a ludicrous showdown between a frothing Peabody and Steven.

Tyro helmer Robert Vince couldn’t shoot the tale more blandly, with inexcusably flat lensing in spectacular B.C. locales, but Vince’s worst offense is a repeated allowance of several adult thesps, especially Ferrier, to mug for the camera. Zegers and Smith provide the mildest of rooting interests, but no two-legged character onscreen has a prayer against the combined antics and curly-lipped, toothy facial reactions of Bernie, Mac and Louie, all exceptionally trained by Carol and Greg Lille.

The melancholic, even borderline grim score by Brahm Wenger completes the effect of a lark gone utterly awry.

MVP: Most Valuable Primate

Un Certain Regard / Brazil - France

Production: A Keystone Releasing release of a Keystone Family Pictures presentation of a Funky Monkey production. Produced by Ian Fodie. Executive producers, Robert Vince, Michael Strange, Anne Vince. Directed by Robert Vince. Screenplay, Anne Vince, Robert Vince.

Crew: Camera (color), Glen Winter; editor, Kelly Herron; music, Brahm Wenger; art director, Liz Shelton; set decorator, James Willcock; costume designer, Cali Newcomen; sound (Dolby Digital), Sebastian Salm; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Marc Chiasson; visual effects, Grant Lindsay; visual effects supervisor, John Lambert; special effects coordinator, Bill Ryan; key animal trainers, Carol Lille, Greg Lille; assistant director, Gary Blair Smith; second unit camera, Scott Ateah; casting, Ellie Kanner, Lorna Johnson. Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, West Hollywood, Oct. 10, 2000. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: Jack - Bernie, Mac, Louie Steven Westover - Kevin Zegers Tara Westover - Jamie Renee Smith Darren - Russell Ferrier Coach Marlowe - Rick Ducommun Dr. Peabody - Oliver Muirhead Dr. Kendall - Lomax Study

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