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Movie Review

This reviewer must first confess a personal bias: I’m a sucker for sports movies where animals take the team to new heights with jaw-dropping heroics. From Gus the field goal-kicking mule, to the basketball-playing golden retriever in Air Bud, there’s something charming (and admittedly formulaic) about teams in conflict being pulled together by gifted critters. Such is the case in MVP: Most Valuable Primate, a good-natured movie about a spunky monkey with a wicked slapshot.

MVP opens with Jack, an exceptionally bright chimpanzee, going through his morning ritual—one that occurs in households across America. He showers. He dresses. He brushes his teeth. He pours a bowl of cereal and makes coffee. Jack’s home is a glass-enclosed "house" used by kind Dr. Kendall for scientific research and in his college classes. Life is peachy for the sign language-savvy chimp. But when Dr. Kendall dies of a sudden heart attack, Jack could end up being sold to another university for less congenial experimentation involving hepatitis vaccines. A friendly handler sneaks Jack onto a train bound for a nature preserve where Jack would be reunited with his simian parents.

Jack misses his stop, continues north and winds up in chilly British Columbia where he befriends a deaf girl named Tara and her hockey playing big brother, Steve. The sibs are struggling to adjust to new environs as well. Having just moved to snowy Canada from California, Tara has yet to be embraced by her peers, who make fun of her slurred speech. Steve faces a cold reception from the guys on his Junior B hockey team, a squad that lacks the will to win and boasts so many quirky losers that you half expect the coach to be Walter Matthau or Emilio Estevez. When the kids teach Jack to ice skate (a very cute scene) and he demonstrates remarkable puck-handling skills, it’s just a matter of time before he finds his way into a game and makes a monkey out of opposing defenses. All the while, stone-hearted professor Dr. Peabody and an academic lackey are hot on the trail of their prized chimp.

positive elements: Steve and Tara share a loving brother/sister relationship (he’s a source of encouragement to her; when he’s on the ice, she’s his biggest fan). Their parents are strong, supportive and portrayed with old fashioned affection. Disabled children will identify with Tara’s social challenges and rejoice as she rises above them, in part because of her sweet disposition. She is the first to connect with Jack by inviting him in out of the cold. Several characters stick out their necks to protect the monkey and reunite him with his family. Jack, who gladly scales the town Christmas tree to plant a star on top, becomes a local hero for his athleticism and nobility. He even helps teach schoolchildren sign language. Steve urges his teammates to play with pride, which they eventually do, and works with individuals to improve their game.

sexual content: None.

violent content: Hockey violence involves nasty checks, cheap shots and fisticuffs. Rude fans throw eggs at opposing players.

crude or profane language: A goalie beaten on a play exclaims, "aw h---." The word "sucks" appears twice, and an ineffective player is called a "panty waste." Totally unnecessary.

drug and alcohol content: None.

other objectionable elements: Steve’s dad is shown from behind—and heard—as he urinates.

conclusion: A lollipop is basically sugar on a stick. Only the flavor changes from one sucker to the next. As confections go, it is downright predictable. Still, millions of people enjoy lollipops for their simple, soluble promise of innocent pleasure. MVP: Most Valuable Primate is a cinematic lollipop. You’ve tasted it before: Animal athlete befriends kids, helps them with their own issues and moves toward the "big game" while evading ill-intentioned adults. Factor in cute shots of the kids and animal sure to warm the iciest soul. Toss in a little physical comedy at the bad guy’s expense. It’s all designed to leave a good taste in the mouth of the audience. That’s why a by-the-numbers family film deserves more grace than, say, a by-the-numbers slasher film. It has noble intentions. Produced by the creators of Air Bud, this story has a similar warmth and decency about it. Of course, several crude expressions will drive parents of younger children bananas, but those moments aside, this is a rental families can feel good about.


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