Anthony Hopkins is back behind bars, but those anticipating a reprise of Hannibal Lecter will be sorely disappointed by this didactic, eco-friendly melodrama. Director Turteltaub may be scavenging from The Silence Of The Lambs, Gorillas In The Mist and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but the result is still a pretty basic Instinct. Not surprising, given that its inspiration, Daniel Quinn's novel Ishmael, consisted of an imaginary dialogue between man and primate.
When we first meet Hopkins, he's a white-haired, bearded recluse prone to bursts of feral rage who refuses to talk to his captors. Yet in no time at all he's subjecting Gooding Jr's inexperienced shrink to a series of stodgy monologues about how he reverted to a state of primordial contentment with his hairy friends before the well-meaning rangers came along and spoiled the party.
But this premise is unfortunately nowhere near enough to fill a movie, so Turteltaub hurls in some supplementary business: a sadistic prison guard (Ashton) to be defeated, a neglected daughter (Tierney) for Hopkins to be reconciled with and several miscellaneous nutjobs for Cuba to work his magic on. Gooding Jr tries to avoid being eclipsed by his more seasoned co-star, but the script makes him a mere foil to Hopkins' guru, a straight man to the apeman. Near the end he delivers a cringe-inducing speech on how there's more to life than self-advancement, although his scenes with Tierney do at least convey a faint whiff of romantic chemistry.
The flashbacks to lush Rwanda (actually done in Jamaica) are elegantly shot, and it's almost impossible to tell the difference between the genuine simians and their animatronic stand-ins. But these are scant rewards in a film that squanders the potential of its cast and subject while spouting sentimental moralisms at every turn. Obey your instincts and wait for the video.
Clunky monkey business from the director of Phenomenon, whose weakness for feelgood fare undermines the battle of wills between two evenly matched protagonists. Both Oscar-winners are wasted and the apes get all the best lines.