Monkey Warfare

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/30/07 00:10:50

"Radical, man."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: A description of "Monkey Warfare" reads as something a little zanier than the reality - aging hippies meet a young would-be radical when they need to find a new pot dealer, and find that they don't necessarily share the same values. And while it is a very funny movie, it's not the Cheech & Chong caper the audience may be expecting.

Dan (Don McKellar) and Linda (Tracy Wright) have been living off the grid in Toronto for fifteen years, collecting garbage and hitting yard sales for items that can be resold for more money. Their relationship is distant, and getting along without the weed looks like it could be a real chore. Dan, at least, thinks he might have found help on both counts in the form of Susan (Nadia Litz), a very pretty, very young girl whose supply of B.C. organic is soon matched by her interest in the radical past that Dan & Linda know far more of than she does - though they're only willing to share so much.

The characters talk a great deal about sticking it to the man or being anti-establishment in general ways, but writer/director Reginald Harkema doesn't spend much time having them pontificate on specific issues - indeed, Dan actually gets uncomfortable when Linda mentions she's doing some volunteer work. This is partly because there likely wouldn't be much debate or interesting disagreement; Dan, Linda, and Susan all believe pretty close to the same thing. The interesting differences come from how the generational differences effect them - Dan's starting to look at fighting the good fight (and the associated music and history) as things of nostalgia (and also thinking about how the bohemian lifestyle doesn't provide retirement benefits), while he and Linda are more than a bit taken aback by the younger girl's cynicism. She, of course, doesn't understand their aversion to direct action.

The film eventually becomes much more about family dynamics than ideology, which is especially funny given the initial and hilarious contempt that Linda shows toward the people who insist upon shoving their kids in her face. Just as funny is Dan's confusion over how to react to Susan - he wants to just go after the hot young girl, and they don't care about society's rules, right... So what's holding him back?

McKellar and Wright are fairly busy actors in Canadia and have worked together in a number of productions. They make their characters feel familiar with each other, too - not finishing each other's sentences, but also never surprised by what the other does. They're resigned to their life, so there's a bit of regret even in their funny scenes. Nadia Litz is just as good, projecting an intelligence that is unbolstered by experience. She and McKellar are hilarious in a would-be seduction scene, but there's something just as humorously petulant to how she demands they teach her to make a Molotov Cocktail.

Harkema served as the editor on two films McKellar directed, amoung others, and being behind the camera hasn't made him unwilling to cut - the film runs around eighty minutes including a funny post-credits sequence. It's economical rather than skimpy, though. The jokes all hit just the right beats, we get to know everybody quickly, and their growth is smooth and believable - he doesn't need to give the audience moments where the characters have sudden revelations, although he does stage a great moment or two where differences are thrown into sharp relief.

"Monkey Warfare" is a tight little movie, broadly funny at points but packing a full story into its short running time.

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