Project X | Chicago Reader

Project X

Matthew Broderick as a grounded air force pilot who makes friends with a precocious chimpanzee for a top-secret military project. Plenty of strikes against this—moronic story line, obligatory animal mugging, more “awwwww” opportunities than any film since 3 Men and a Cradle—but it's still one of the more engaging pulp fantasies of its year (1987). Director Jonathan Kaplan (Heart Like a Wheel) manages to lower the species barrier without the usual Pavlovian shortcuts; he works carefully at building identification from character and situation rather than programmed-in response, and his simian ensemble is a remarkable creation, moving beyond menagerie stereotype into areas of demystification and honest emotionality. It all takes a while to jell, and Kaplan has to push hard against the sentimental idiocies of the tearjerker-cum-thriller plot (by WarGames scenarists Stanley Weiser and Lawrence Lasker, who also coproduced), but when everything finally comes together, it works wonderfully well. With Helen Hunt, Bill Sadler (a fine, shaded performance in a cardboard role), and Johnny Ray McGhee; the resourceful cinematography is by John Carpenter's Dean Cundey.

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