Starring an adorably cute Capuchin monkey, which performs magnificent tricks, “Monkey Trouble” is a touching children’s adventure that belongs among the great animal movies. With Harvey Keitel in a refreshingly different role and beautiful child star Thora Birch, this sentimental family yarn boasts a superlative production. New Line can start planning a sequel to a film that is likely to score high with children, especially girls.
Nine-year-old Eva Gregory (Birch) desperately wants a pet, but mom (Mimi Rogers) thinks she’s not mature and responsible enough to take care of one. Besides, Eva’s stepfather (Christopher McDonald) is hyperallergic to animals and the family is too busy with Eva’s baby brother.
Opportunity knocks when Shorty Kohn (Keitel), a gypsy hustler, loses his pet, a Capuchin monkey trained to entertain and rob the crowds along Venice Beach. Shorty, who’s about to pull a big heist with two crooks, has abused his pet so much that the monkey really hates him.
This is the premise to an endearing fantasy that can be summed as “girl meets monkey, girl loses monkey, girl finds monkey.” Eva sneaks the monkey into her house and gradually a rewarding bond evolves between them. To her parents’ amazement, all of a sudden Eva cleans her room, shows concern for them and is even sensitive to her brother. As for Eva, she gets her own surprise upon discovering her pet’s felonious skills and dubious past.
So long as monkey, named Dodger by Eva, is centerstage, the tale is charmingly diverting. Lenser Luciano Tovoli performs marvels with his camera, which impressively tracks the pet as it shrewdly moves from one locale to another. Briskly paced by director Franco Amurri, pic makes good use of Venice and other colorful L.A. locations.
Problem is that audiences are always ahead of the yarn, and whenever bits and pieces of narrative are used to cement the girl and her pet’s escapades, the film becomes a bit stale and uninvolving — though not for long.
As can be expected, the good cast of adult actors mostly plays second banana roles, except for Keitel, whose colorful outfitting extends to a set of bad teeth. Birch has the good looks and screen presence of a major child star.
Behind-the-scenes hands can take bows all the way down the line, notably lenser Tovoli, production designer Les Dilley, costume designer Eileen Kennedy — and animal trainer Mark Harden.