“MVP: Most Valuable Primate” still a winner despite formula

Most Valuable Primate

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
October 20, 2000

2.5 stars
Steven  (Kevin Zegers)
Tara  (Jamie Renee Smith)
Dr. Peabody  (Oliver Muirhead)

Keystone Family Pictures presents a film directed by Robert Vince.
Written by Anne Vince and Robert Vince.
Running time: 93 minutes. Rated PG (for violence).

A team of underdogs is on a losing streak in “MVP: Most Valuable Primate.” Suddenly, an outcast with more fur on his face than the rest of the boys comes out of nowhere to save the day and. . . .

Hey! This movie has been done before. But last time around, it was a spunky golden retriever that could sink a basketball with its nose in the “Air Bud” movies, which, coincidentally, were made by the same filmmakers.

In “MVP,” the hero is an adorable little chimp named Jack who lives at a university. We are told that he is a genius. He certainly is clever and can in-line skate with the best of them, but he doesn’t exhibit any signs of true genius. Compared to most of the adults in the film, sure he’s bright. But then again, most of the kids in the movie are smarter than them, too.

For reasons they don’t make clear in the film, the professor who championed Jack makes arrangements for him to return to his family in a simian sanctuary. When the professor dies of a heart attack before he can send Jack back, the greedy Dr. Peabody (Oliver Muirhead) sells him to a research facility.

Never mind that the facility could easily procure non-genius chimpanzees for their research. Surely they’re not paying big bucks just so they can torture and eventually kill a chimp that can shower, in-line skate, dress itself, make coffee and communicate in sign language? Heck, the school could teach Jack to take dictation and keep him on as a personal assistant to the dean.

With the aid of the school’s maintenance man–who is so overly friendly that I think some children will find him creepy–Jack boards a train for El Simian, where he will be reunited with his brood. But he falls asleep, misses his stop and finds himself in Canada, where he quickly befriends a teenager named Steven and his younger sister Tara.

Steven (played by Kevin Zegers of the “Air Bud” flicks) is a high school hockey star who has to change teams when his family moves. Teaming up with a cast of rejects who have grown accustomed to losing, he tries to pump up their spirit and ends up getting pummeled on the ice instead.

Steven’s biggest fan is Tara (Jamie Renee Smith), who is slow to make friends at her new school. Deaf and shy, she tags along to all of Steven’s games. When she finds Jack in her tree house and he signs, “Girl OK?” she realizes that she finally has a friend who speaks her language.

The plot is thin and doesn’t create the same aura of wonder that made “Air Bud” such a delight. But the child actors are winning, as are Bernie, Mac and Louie–the trio of chimps who portray Jack. They are precocious and cute when they glide around on the ice shooting goals. But it’s the moments when they quietly stare directly into the camera that tug at your heart.

And you wonder what will happen to them when they are full grown and not quite so cute? But then again, that could be said of child actors as well.

In the end, there are no surprises. What you expect to happen does. The right team wins. The mean guy gets his comeuppance. And Jack, dressed head to toe in Tommy Hilfiger, lives happily ever after.

Did somebody say, “Sequel?”

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