Cult Movies 101- Episode 32: Going Ape!
For a brief moment in Hollywood, a secret formula existed that combined stars with chimps in lighthearted comedies. The material was never Oscar-worthy, but movies such as “Every Which Way but Loose” and “Die Laughing” proved to be able to induce laughter in even the most skeptical and jaded movie lovers. “Going Ape!” was one of the last few movies to use this formula successfully and to this day, it serves as another reminder of how a stupid premise can be executed comically to provide cinema that is pure escapism.
To start this formula, a film often takes an Average Joe and provides a bizarre scenario, which forces him to take care of one or more chimps. In “Going Ape!” that run-of-the-mill citizen is Oscar Foster, played by Tony Danza. His father, who owned a circus, had passed away, leaving Foster five million dollars. However, that money can only be inherited if he takes care of three chimps for two years without one of them being harmed.
It’s definitely not a typical family scenario that most of us have probably experienced.
The premise is simple enough, but there is more: Foster’s father has appointed a friend and colleague, Lazlo (Danny DeVito), to help care for the chimps. If any of the animals come to harm or die, then Foster doesn’t receive anything and they become the property of The Zoological Society, who will inherit Foster’s money. So naturally, The Zoological Society decides to hire two bubbling Italian hit men to rub out one of the three orangutans.
Danza and DeVito shared wonderful chemistry for five seasons on “Taxi,” which leaked onto the set of this oddball comedy. Danza typically works well as the “every man from Brooklyn,” that is often endearing and poignant in his attempts to make it in the world, whether he is a boxer, baseball player or a con man. DeVito is quite the opposite and often creates unusual, but loveable characters that elevate the material, which is why “Going Ape!” works. DeVito’s character of Lazlo is a foreigner from the circus who seems to be interested in two things: chimps and the mom (Jessica Walter) of Foster’s girlfriend.
Also of note is the performance of the incredibly funny Art Metrano as one of the hit men. Metrano is probably best known for being Mahoney’s enemy in several of the “Police Academy” sequels. He spent the ‘80s typecast with roles similar to this, but is always a welcomed face in comedy.
But the real stars of the picture are the chimps, which are adorable. They manage to steal every scene they are in by often imitating human behavior. The little guys drink beer, try to read books, fake being sick and basically destroy Foster’s relationship with his girlfriend. However, in this family-friendly comedy, you can’t help but feel everything will work out.
The zany madcap tone has shades of the type of humor that hinders between the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. However, the majority of this film opts for the physical humor brought by the latter, which works when dealing with chimps.
The movie also utilizes a climax where all the characters are running around like crazy to save or kill the chimps and that slapstick type of farce is bound to make almost anyone laugh. This movie even continues the chase in the end credit sequence, which allows the laughter to continue into the credits.
“Going Ape!” simply wants to make the audience laugh, and if you turn off the rational side of your brain, you will find yourself having a great time.