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Twelve Monkeys (1995)

by on 2012/01/15

“The agony of foreknowledge combined with the impotence to do anything about it.”

* * *

Some creations — however rife with potential, and meritorious — are so unnecessarily, self-consciously, and relentlessly eccentric, they render themselves tough to appreciate. The modern science fiction classic Twelve Monkeys is such an effort.

Based on a French film, La Jetee, director Terry Gilliam shows us the misadventure of James Cole (Bruce Willis of Die Harder), a refugee from a post-pandemic future. He’s on a mission, back in time, to learn more about the source of our downfall. He mistakenly arrives ahead of schedule and is promptly institutionalized.

Or might the entire backdrop be the function of one man’s delusion?

It’s hard to tell. For one thing, the constant nudity was frankly a little distracting.

There’s promise here. I love paradoxical stories pitting variant realities against inevitable predestination. Like most such stories, it involves a bit of mental flexing. Only a little, mind you. It’s not the most taxing pretzel you’ll untie. Too often I felt plot details existed to perpetuate themselves; too often it felt like plodding work; too often it felt unrewarding.

“One Flew Over The Terminator’s Nest” I joked at one point, midway through. I connected more to the narrative than to its characters. Cole is one of those unfortunate heroes, more pawn than pathfinder, driven by others, and never quite evolving past the first act. It’s a frustrating experience not to make that connection because of his powerlessness.

Likewise, I couldn’t latch on to anyone else, either his psychiatrist, Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe of Revenge) or his fellow patient, Jeffrey (Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s Brad Pitt). One was too bland and aloof, the other too indulgently fringe.

So I wound up spending too much time playing my old standby, Spot the Actor:

  • Look at the newspaper! It’s Canadian legend Christopher Plummer!
  • Wait, I know that voice! It’s Simon Jones of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
  • Say, isn’t he Contact’s David Morse? The one in the ponytail?
  • And who could forget Frank Gorshin? He hasn’t changed a bit since Batman!

Yes, Twelve Monkeys had its moments for me, but probably not exactly as the filmmakers intended. Occasionally interesting, though not a lot of fun overall, it’s a moderate puzzler, and just about worth the effort, even if the characters are difficult to relate to.

So while I respect the core idea and its uncompromising vision, I simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to.

* * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

130 minutes

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