Mighty Joe Young [1998]

Charlize Theron is the latest stunning blonde to be hanging around some big ape in a Hollywood movie, this one a remake of the 1949 semi-classic with echoes of the superior King Kong. Theron plays the daugher of an American researcher killed by poachers in Africa. The baby gorilla left in her care grows up to become a hugely tall and broad specimen named Joe, living in the mountains as a mostly unseen legend among people who live there. Along comes an eco-minded emissary (Bill Paxton) from a California sanctuary, who talks the jungle girl into providing safe haven for Joe at the L.A. facility. The transition is not without discomfort, but everything is aggravated via a conspiracy of poachers to get Joe into their own greedy hands. Director Ron Underwood (City Slickers) uses a combination of special-effects techniques to give Joe life and personality, and he succeeds quite effectively. The requisite giant-ape-goes-amok scenes are all in place--a couple of them pretty intense--as is a conclusion that finds the simian hero performing a stunning feat of escalation. Underwood attempts to give a little modern spin to some classic Hollywood conventions regarding wild hearts lost in civilization, and the results are pretty agreeable family fare. --Tom Keogh

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