FILM REVIEW with VIDEO: James Franco can’t save “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”

It’s been 40-plus years since Charlton Heston discovered the original “Planet Of The Apes.”

Now, four sequels and a remake later, we get “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” an unabashed money beg and unnecessary prequel which sets up a series that hardly needs it.

Rupert Wyatt directs this schizophrenic piece, which starts in the supermodern glass-and-steel offices of Gen-Sys, an international pharma in San Francisco. Here, chimpanzee trials have shown that a new virus called ALZ-112 can restore damaged brain tissue – in chimps. The hope is that the miracle virus will reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s in humans.

Genetics researcher Will Rodman (James Franco), on his way to the conference room to try to convince the Gen-Sys board that it’s time for human trials, has a personal stake in success – his father Charles (John Lithgow) is slipping deeper into Alzheimer’s every day.

But an unexpected aggressive rampage by Bright Eyes (Terry Notary), “star” of the chimp trials, causes Gen-Sys CEO Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) to shut down research and order all the chimps destroyed. Will manages to smuggle out Bright Eyes’ infant son, whom he names Caesar (Andy Serkis, aka Gollum) and decides to raise as his own.

And oh, of course there’s a girl, in this case Freida Pinto as Caroline, a primatologist who serves as Caesar’s veterinarian. She is pretty but utterly extraneous.

If this story sounds familiar, it should: This year a riveting documentary called “Project Nim” was released, about a 1973 experiment to determine whether chimps (who share 98% of their DNA with humans) could be taught to create sentences. Here too, chimps were penalized (but not killed) when they began exhibiting “animal” behavior.

Caesar is eventually consigned to the San Bruno Primate Sanctuary, not unlike the place Nim was sent after he “misbehaved,” where prison-like conditions and mean staff (Brian Cox and Tom Felton, aka Draco Malfoy) inspire Caesar, with his superior intelligence, to organize the primates against their human captors.

This leads to the other film, a too long and too silly chase sequence on the Golden Gate bridge in which San Francisco cops face off against stop-motion, CGI and guys in motion-capture monkey suits. These chimps jump around on and off car hoods, swing hand-to-hand under the bridge, even cause mayhem by leaping into a passing helicopter.

And it’s a snore.

You can tell me all day that this is great, “Avatar”-like use of animation. I’ll even grant the point. But though I was engaged in the first half of the film, this action section left me looking at my watch.

Send your chase-scene-fan friends and those who will see anything about this series, and give this a pass.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.

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