Film review: Ed

Published: Tuesday, March 19 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Matt LeBlanc is the first of the enormously popular "Friends" folks to parlay his TV stardom into movie stardom . . . and once his fellow cast members get a look at this movie, he may wish he'd waited.

"Ed," the story of a baseball-playing chimp and the rookie minor-league pitcher who learns to love him, is one of the worst, most wrong-headed "family" fantasies to come along in some time.

The title character is not real, of course — but rather a group of stunt-persons and puppeteers who wear and/or work an animatronic chimp suit.

LeBlanc plays a farm boy who dreams of playing baseball in the majors, and he's elated when he gets a chance in the minors, playing for the Santa Rosa Rockets in California. But instead of showing off his incredible fastball pitch, LeBlanc chokes in every game.

When Ed (who was, we are told, "Mickey Mantle's monkey") is brought on board as a mascot, the team's manager (Jack Warden) has LeBlanc take in the chimp as a roommate. Initially, LeBlanc is hostile to the idea, but eventually a "friendship" is cultivated. Along the way, Ed teaches LeBlanc how to keep from choking during a game, and he also gives him tips on being sensitive, which helps when LeBlanc begins romancing a neighbor (Jayne Brook).

The film relies heavily on stupid slapstick for its major set-pieces, whether it's Ed the chimp throwing super fast-balls on the field or tearing up a kitchen and having a food fight or using the remote to channel-surf between "King Kong" and an episode of "Friends" that features Jennifer Aniston with a monkey on her lap.

But it's also loaded with vulgar gags, which include a player drooling chewing tobacco in closeup, burping and flatulence contests, Ed grabbing his crotch whenever he has to go to the bathroom — even sexual double-entendres that will have parents cringing. ("I'm gonna spank that monkey," LeBlanc says.) In fact, with all of this going on, it seems silly to complain that the little girl playing Brook's daughter (Doren Fein) says of LeBlanc, "He has a great butt!" (A similar joke is also used in another current family film, "Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco.")

Poor LeBlanc. Imagine what fun his friends at "Friends" will have, coming up with all sorts of "Matt and the Chimp" jokes for next season.

In fact, staying home and imagining those jokes would be less of a time-waster than sitting through "Ed."

"Ed" is rated PG but it's too vulgar for children and too stupid for adults. It contains violence (Ed receiving electrical shocks from bad guys, a fistfight, etc.), vulgarity, profanity and, surprisingly, a subtext of racial intolerance from the coach of an opposing team (aimed at a black umpire) and a couple of racial epithets.