Pee-wee player scores with kids
By BRUCE KIRKLAND
With a plot hook that puts a chimpanzee on skates to play hockey, the Canadian-made MVP is strictly kids fare.
Made by the same folks who gave us the Air Bud movies -- the on-going series in which a golden retriever plays various team sports -- MVP is subtitled Most Valuable Primate. Obviously they know a good thing when they film it. The animal/kids connection is a slam dunk.
But it's all pretty silly in MVP. It's all a tad naive. It's all deliberately cartoonish. But MVP does have its charms, including solid work from young star Kevin Zegers, the kid from Woodstock, Ont., who is a rising star and is already familiar as the human element in the Air Bud trilogy.
As for the chimp -- or the trio of California-raised chimpanzees who share the part -- you see the real thing, not special effects. He can actually skate -- and well. Mega-cute.
The story line, co-written by the husband-and-wife producing team of Anne and Robert Vince, is primate friendly, at least as it concerns these amazing animals in captivity. The hirsute hero is a young chimp whose best friend and caretaker is a university professor who is trying to teach the animal to communicate directly with humans.
When the elderly prof dies suddenly, the chimp is in danger of being sold off to a nasty medical laboratory. So a mentally challenged janitor (I'm not making this up -- the Vinces did) helps the chimp escape on a train out of California.
The chimp oversleeps, ends up in British Columbia (where MVP was filmed) and falls in with a family that is addicted to hockey. Zegers plays a slick U.S.-born playmaker trying to survive on a team of incompetent Canuckleheaded goons. The chimp soon picks up the game, joins the team and helps them all improve their pathetic team play.
If you haven't gagged already, MVP might be fun. Especially if you're five years old and like watching a really hairy, long-armed guy your own size play hockey with the strength of seven large men. Chimps can fire the puck with blazing speed (okay, that really is special effects at work).
No matter, there are also lots of human subplots around, such as Zegers' warm relationship with his deaf younger sister (Jamie Renee Smith) and her troubles at school.
MVP is one of those movies that, once the plot is set in motion, offers no surprises whatsoever. It is mapped out in advance and proceeds to the obvious conclusion.
So the pleasure has to come from watching it play out methodically. Robert Vince directs with a bit too much zest for my taste. He encourages support players to overact, often grotesquely, as in the case of Russell Ferrier as the chimp-loving janitor and Oliver Muirhead as the villain.
At the same time, Zegers gives the movie a strong teen heartthrob presence, the chimp charms and all is good in the world of animal gimmick movies.
MVP: MOST VALUABLE PRIMATE
Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Director: Robert Vince
Stars: Kevin Zegers Jamie Renee Smith
'GREAT APE GRETZKY'
-- BRUCE KIRKLAND, SUN
Sun Rating: 3 out of 5