Right off the bat, let's get one thing straight — "Monkeybone" is not a Tim Burton film.

That fact alone would make it appear that the trailers and TV spots for the movie are being dishonest, since they claim that it comes from the maker of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas." However, despite its title, that film was actually directed by Henry Selick, a Burton protg who also helmed the animated adaptation of "James and the Giant Peach."

Yet for all intents and purposes, this one might as well be one of Burton's — or at least one of the string of big-budget duds he's released since his last real hit, the first "Batman" movie in 1989.

After all, it bears all the of latter-period Burton trademarks, including a wildly erratic tone, eye-candy visual stylings and a script so bad that it undermines the entire picture.

But what makes it all the more disappointing is that it comes from Selick, whose first two movies suggested that he was positioned to possibly make better pictures than his mentor.

Instead, this live-action/animation hybrid stoops to cheap sex gags for laughs (few of which are funny), while Selick appears to be copping Burton's "vibe" (especially from his imaginative 1988 cult hit "Beetle Juice"), and rather unsuccessfully at that.

As far as the story is concerned, it's an adaptation of the little-seen comic-book graphic-novel "Dark Town." The film manages to keep most of the situations and characters intact and even invents a few new ones, including the title character, cartoonist Stuart Miley (Brendan Fraser).

Thanks to the wisecracking monkey character, Stuart has become a success, which includes having an animated series on MTV. But the only thing that really brings him happiness is his relationship with pretty dream-researcher Julie McElroy (Bridget Fonda).

In fact, he's ready to propose to

her. Then, a freak accident leaves him comatose in a hospital, and he finds himself in Downtown, a limbo of sorts between heaven and hell, where his nightmarish dreams are feeding the residents — including his tiny simian alter-ego (voiced by John Turturro).

His only hope for returning to Julie is to steal an "exit pass" from Death (Whoopi Goldberg) and return to the land of the living. However, he's double-crossed by Monkeybone, who inhabits his body and takes over his life.

So now he finds himself imprisoned, helpless and seemingly without hope, until he finds a sympathetic Downtown resident (Rose McGowan) willing to aid him in one last escape attempt.

To illustrate how awful Sam Hamm's script is, the role of the title character was supposed to be voiced by Paul Reubens, who then exited after reading it. And in his place is Turturro, whose voice is enhanced and sped up, to the degree that it's almost unrecognizable — not that he'd want to be associated with one of his worst-ever performances.

Turturro's not the only one at fault here, though. Fraser can't decide whether to play it straight or go over the top, Fonda is just bland and Goldberg can't keep a straight face (why she's laughing at this material is anyone's guess).

"Monkeybone" is rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, flatulence gags and other vulgar jokes, violence (mostly comic, though some is disturbing), scattered profanity, sexual fumblings, nudity (male rear and some veiled female nudity) and gore (including hospital gore and some graphic cartoons). Running time: 91 minutes.


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