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Monarch of the Moon
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by Jay Seaver

"Not funny: Bland parody. Funny: Death-defying escapes that don't."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Monarch of the Moon" shoots fish in a barrel, parodying World War II-era superhero serials as if they didn't do that just fine themselves. It's easier to spoof what makes such films ridiculous today than to do what, say, "Sky Captain" or the Indiana Jones films did and recapture the elements that make them fun without resorting to mockery. "Monarch of the Moon" does better than most, in that it doesn't completely exhaust its joke in the first half hour.

Meet Cal Crawford (Blane Wheatley), the Yellow Jacket, an American who gained the ability to call forth a swarm of his namesake insects as the result of Nazi experiments. Not the world's coolest superpower, but you take what you can get. Now he and his team - office girl Susan (Monica Himmelheber), Colonel Slate (Will MacMillan), heavy-drinking pilot Randy (Kyle Kaplan), Professor Montgomery Wright (Phil Van Tee), and young Bear Scout Benny (Brent Moss) attempt to foil the Axis's most depraved plans. Currently, beautiful but deadly Japanese agent Dragonfly (Kimberly Page) is working with Nazi scientists and the technologically advanced Moon People to pave the way for a lunar invasion.

The film is presented as a six-part serial, so every fifteen minutes or so we get a huge cliffhanger, a recap, and an explanation of how the characters cheated certain death. "Cheat" being the operative word, as the second shot often contradicts the first in terms of new elements being added to the same angle. Part of the fun is that the resolution to these cliffhangers often involve someone dying horribly, which is about the funniest twist on the clichés inherent in the genre you're likely going to see.

Shooting it like that makes the film work better as an action-adventure movie, too - it requires a big set piece every ten or fifteen minutes, and writers Richard Lowry and Chris Patton know it also means that the story has to lurch in a new direction with regularity, too. Repetition would kill this movie dead, so it's good that the filmmakers mix things up (and it's set up to be enjoyed in small doses on DVD).

The cast, obviously, has to approximate bad acting without actually falling victim to it. For the most part, they manage. Wheatley makes Cal kind of oblivious without winding up playing a straight-up buffoon. Monica Himmelheber has a way of delivering absolutely bizarre lines in a way that amuse rather than having them just die. Kimberly Page goes a bit over the top as Dragonfly, but some in the audience seemed to enjoy it. I wasn't quite sure whether Brent Moss was supposed to obviously be in his mid-twenties or not. Robert Clink dives into his role as a Brazilian native guide with gusto, always ready with the crazy.

Like most parodies, this movie is at its best when it actually has an original joke to tell, rather than simply regurgitating what's silly or lame about its subject. Too often the film lingers on characters smoking or has them use a term like "jap" that's obviously pretty offensive now, and that's all it has for the moment, which kills my enjoyment pretty dead. Yes, we know everyone smoked and used nasty epithets in referring to the enemy in the war. That's not really all that funny. Get back to the completely bizarre stuff, like Cal scaring a kid with his origin story, because the film's actually not all that bad at that.

It's been said many a time, but artificial kitsch is almost impossible to really do well. Considering how painful it can be (take, for example, "The Naked Monster"), that "Monarch of the Moon" winds up being an average movie is something of a victory.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14774&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/09/06 09:12:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Richard Lowry

Written by
  Richard Lowry
  Chris Patton

Cast
  Blane Wheatley
  Kimberly Page
  Monica Himmelhebe



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