‘Monkey’s Mask’ mostly about monkey business

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
October 26, 2001

2 stars

“I never knew poetry was about opening your legs one minute, opening your grave the next,” says the female protagonist in ”The Monkey’s Mask.”  “I never knew poetry could be as sticky as sex.”

She’s quoting the words of Dorothy Porter, whose novel is the basis for this uneven Australian-made film.

Monkey's MaskJill Fitzpatrick (Susie Porter) is a no-nonsense private investigator. She keeps a bottle of booze in her file cabinet and lives by the credo: “Never tell them where the kid is until you’ve been paid. No one wants to pay when their eyes are dry.”

When the parents of a missing teen hire her to find their daughter, Jill is thrown into a pretentious world of poetry. She is in awe of it as much as she is repulsed by the name-dropping.

Jill discovers the girl was a budding poetess who had indiscreet affairs with famous male poets. When the girl is found dead, she pieces together the last days of the teenager’s life. She also falls in love with Diana (Kelly McGillis), the girl’s sultry poetry instructor.

The movie appears to have been set up to showcase the sex scenes between Jill and Diana. Jill’s love for Diana is pure. She enjoys the lovemaking as much as she does the smaller things, such as when Diana shaves her legs for her.

But Diana is more interested in sex. She is married to a libidinous young attorney, who is as much a trophy spouse for her as she is to him. When he catches Jill leaving Diana’s bed, he isn’t jealous. He’s envious. Of Diana.

The acting in ”The Monkey’s Mask” is superb. Susie Porter’s pixieish, androgynous look recalls a young Mia Farrow. Her walk has an awkward gait, giving her a child-like appearance, but her determined face shows she has known her own share of pain.

Meanwhile, Kelly McGillis’s haughty, flirty Diana is calculated to break hearts. Jill is a lesbian, but Diana is a dabbler. She towers over Jill and introduces her to sex shows, which she sometimes acts out in the bedroom.

She tells Jill her husband likes her. She then offers him up for a threesome. Jill is disgusted. She loves women, not men. Diana loves everyone.

Outside the bedroom, though, the characters aren’t particularly well developed. When the killer makes threatening calls to her, Jill–a former cop–doesn’t bother to get the calls traced. She doesn’t utilize modern-day technology (Caller ID, automatic callback). And frankly, she doesn’t seem all that concerned.

Neither are we.

When the killer is revealed, we don’t really care. The villain literally laughs in her face like a Saturday morning cartoon character. It’s as if he knew how ludicrous this plot was all along.

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