B. Monkey (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

B. Monkey is True Romance, with European accents.

Jared Harris should be studied by geneticists, because he must be some kind of mutant. His father is Richard Harris. Now, I ask you, has there ever been a more flamboyant actor than Dad? He's one of my favorites, but I believe he has managed to go his entire career without ever delivering a line in a normal, conversational tone. An ex-girlfriend of mine was once describing a scene to me in which an actor was having a long, loud argument with God because the Almighty had sent an unwanted thunderstorm. I don't know who she was talking about, and neither did she, but I could only picture Richard Harris doing such a scene. The Roman historian Suetonius reported that the emperor Caligula once had a fight with Neptune, in which he paraded around the shallows, stabbing the sea with his sword. As far as I know, Harris never played that scene. I believe I have seen John Hurt and Malcolm McDowell actually doing that scene, maybe others as well, but Harris should have been the one. He is the one who plays it in my mind, when I imagine it. Have there been many actors with more emotion and sentiment pouring from them than Limerick's Man called Horse? OK, maybe Peter O'Toole in his later films, based on pure sentimentality, but for sheer, rich emotional output, Richard Harris always delivered the goods.

So the genetic question is - "What happened to Richard's son, Jared, who seems to be soft-spoken, sedate, and modest?" In this film, Jared plays a grade school teacher with an introspection and subtlety that were never seen anywhere in his dad's career. The teacher is quietly concerned about an abused boy in his class, and he plays the trumpet mildly and quietly for the children he loves. At night, he spins some mellow jazz classics at a non-profit radio station in a hospital, offering piano bar introductions like "this one goes out to all you romantics."

Somehow this mild-mannered romantic, who is a quiet scholar and a caregiver for very young children, gets mixed up with the ultimate Eurotrash scoundrel, B. Monkey (Asia Argento), an armed robber with a body full of tattoos, a hard gaze, a whisky alto voice, gun-totin' junkie pals, and a penchant to write her name on every railroad bridge in London. This time the genetics seemed to work out, because the character is played by Asia Argento, who is as frightening as she is beautiful, and is unmistakably the daughter of Italy's genre film master, Dario Argento.

It is a violent fairy-tale romance of a movie which requires a complete suspension of disbelief. It is very much an Anglicized version of Tarantino's True Romance, which paired a mild comic store clerk with a hooker who came from an ugly world of drugs and violence. In this version of the fairy tale, the school teacher and the hardened criminal meet, slowly fall in love, then have the joint challenge of trying to find a life that suits them both. This is complicated by the fact that her former life just won't disappear completely, in the cinema tradition of bad girls who want to reform. As in True Romance, the clean-cut, meek, law-abiding character ultimately has to stand up to the baddies from his lover's former world.

As in True Romance, none of the characters in B. Monkey are meant to be representative of people we might know, perhaps not of anyone at all. B wakes up from two days of vomiting and feverish dreams, but looks like she just stepped from the cover of Vogue, her hair neat, her lip gloss perfect, her eye make-up unmussed. In another scene, the lovers are at the deserted white cliffs of Dover, a scene filled with the feeling of vast empty space and natural colors - except for a bright pink ice cream truck. What the hell was it doing there? Certainly not selling much ice cream, since there were about six people to be seen for miles.

The dialogue is unrealistic and half-crazed, sounding either like lunatic ranting or like love poetry. It is not possible to relate to the situations. Despite all that, I felt the movie worked well as an entertainment, and as an aesthetic work. It is a jazz-poem in images, a strange moody saxophone solo of a movie about the loneliness of modern urban life. I liked pretty much everything about it except the requisite over-the-top finale in which every character had a gun pointed at some other character, and they all started blasting away, another element it shared with True Romance.

The distributors found absolutely no market for this in America. A few test screenings - people didn't like it. A half-hearted release in a handful of theaters. No marketing. Almost a complete goose egg at the box office.

In spite of that, it's good entertainment: a lyrical, sad, ultimately hopeful fairy tale about mismatched lovers who want to create their own peaceful life away from their urban blight. The score features Django, Coltrane, and Gershwin. The cinematography features outstanding rural and urban exteriors, and there is plenty of Asia Argento nudity.

It is an underappreciated film.

Does anyone have a more unpredictable writing/directing resumé than Michael Radford? I like his movies, but they don't seem to have have much in common, and much as seven years have elapsed between them.



DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1



Asia Argento was naked in just a whole bunch of different scenes, including one quite graphic beaver shot

Jared Harris showed his butt

The Critics Vote


The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: it grossed only $34,000 in the USA


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. A lyrical, sad, ultimately hopeful fairy tale about mismatched lovers who want to create their own peaceful life away from their urban blight. It's True Romance retold with a Eurotrash criminal instead of an American white trash hooker. On top of all that, there is lots of sexy nudity.

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