[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
A pensive, moving exegesis on the perils of primate resear-- oops, sorry. Thinking of Project Nim. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a straight-ahead enjoy-the-AC summer movie, and if you can't see it in a theater, you needn't bother. I did not see it in a theater, so I could not derive the enjoyment the foggy climactic shoot-outs and chopper crashes surely provided for in-person filmgoers -- and that only left lines like "These people invest in results, not dreams" and James Franco's master class on phoning it in, "101 Troubled Frowns."
The very short form: Franco (the "character" is barely realized, so why name him) is developing a medicine to cure Alzheimer's, from which his father (John Lithgow) (…right?) suffers. Primate research shows it works, but also points up some serious side effects; chimps dosed with ALZ-112 (…right?) get crazy smart, but also crazy mad. That includes Caesar, the chimp Franco kind of accidentally adopts, then raises with the help of his with-it-again dad, and also his girlfriend Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and her glorious eyebrows. She's a primatologist, maybe? Or a vet? Right, my mistake: she's a delivery system for lines about how some things shouldn't be changed.
The movie wastes no time getting straight to plot, which is good; it's an economical 100-ish minutes, which is also good. But that still leaves viewers time to wonder why Franco and Lithgow's neighbor doesn't just move away if he's going to get constantly harassed by chimps, car-wrecked by Lithgow, and bloody-sneezed on by that chunky fella from Reaper -- or why, as Extra Hot Great commenter Will asked, "This movie took place over 8 years, and no one ever got a haircut?"
But we come to praise the visual effects, not to bury the script, I guess. Alas, the effects are not that awesome. Something about the way the chimps move is not quite right -- there's a quickness of motion that makes them seem too light. One chase scene is a treetop shot of chimps moving through the trees that shows only the leaves rustling, which is pretty cool, but that's not going to get it done against work like Hugo.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.