THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, April 5, 1995 TAG: 9504050683 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E6 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 67 lines
ALTHOUGH THEY are promised a dose of monkey business, ticketbuyers are merely given the business by ``Born to Be Wild.'' The new flick uses a familiar formula but a fake monkey for a boy-and-gorilla story.
The phenomenal success of ``Free Willy'' spawned a mess of kid-and-critter copies such as ``Andre,'' ``Lassie'' and ``Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog.'' None has matched the success of the whale. A gorilla might have worked, but only if it were a real gorilla.
The trouble with ``Born to Be Wild'' (in addition to that misleading title) is that if you're going to star a smart, lovable gorilla, you need an actual gorilla. Only the youngest fans will be remotely fooled by the animatronic simian that plays Katie. The gorilla reads sign language and does all kinds of smart things, but we are hardly amazed by the limited facial expressions provided by puppeteers and their radio-controlled gadgets.
Katie also changes sizes from one shot to the next - a distraction that suggests a rather hurried and unconcerned production.
The co-star is 14-year-old Wil Horneff, a lad whose hair is never mussed, even when he tussles with his oversized pet. Teen Beat magazine coverage seems to be his concern more than acting.
It's a nice, likable story. Wil is bitter because his father deserted the family. After a career of skipping school and running from the cops, the boy learns responsibility from Katie. When meanie Peter Boyle plans to put Katie on display in a flea market, Wil and the gorilla head for Canada.
When the two are captured, there is an unlikely courtroom scene in which Katie takes the stand to prove she knows right from wrong. Helen Shaver, who plays the resident mom, looks concerned at all times.
The gorilla and the boy bicker most of the time. The great love they supposedly have for each other is trotted out when needed.
The title is from the 1968 Steppenwolf hit, which is briefly included on the soundtrack. The misguided suggestion is that this might follow the ``return to the wild'' theme of the classic family film ``Born Free.'' That idea is never really explored.
Most of the chances for humor are downplayed in favor of a heavy-handed, sentimental effort.
Very small children may be amused by it. Anyone over 8, though, is likely to scoff at the phony gorilla. ILLUSTRATION: Photo
Wil Horneff, 14, learns responsibility from a gorilla named Katie in
the film ``Born to be Wild.''
``Born to Be Wild''
Cast: Wil Horneff, Helen Shaver, Peter Boyle
Director: John Gray
Screenplay: John Bunzel and Paul Young
Music: Mark Snow
MPAA rating: PG (little that is objectionable)
Mal's rating: One 1/2 stars
Locations: Chesapeake Square, Greenbrier in Chesapeake, Military
Circle, R/C Main Gate in Norfolk, Lynnhaven, R/C Columbus,
Surf-N-Sand in Virginia Beach