Dunston Checks In
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there is little to offend or scare in this fluffy film that harks back to the low-concept, unadorned, and mild children's comedies of the '60s and '70s. There's a lot of cartoonish violence and the firing of a rifle-type tranquilizer dart. Sensitive kids might be concerned that Dunston, the orangutan, will be killed but the gun-wielding animal control specialist, but he's not a very threatening figure. The words "hell" and "holy s--t" are each used once and stand out as unnecessary swearing. There are a few depictions of hot-to-trot older women that are executed with the utmost silliness -- mistaking the ape for her handsome masseuse, a woman is turned on by some tushy-slapping -- the randy behavior will go over the heads of young kids.
What's the story?
Jason Alexander plays a sweet-natured single dad who manages a five-star hotel and pays scant attention to his two sons who treat the hotel like a playground. Just as the family is about to take a vacation, the dad's manager's intimidating boss (Fay Dunaway) arrives unexpectedly to see to it that her hotel is upgraded to six-star rating. She mistakenly assumes that the visiting hotel critic is the haughty Lord Rutledge (Rupert Everett), but he's actually jewel thief. His stooge is a trained orangutan named Dunston who befriends 10-year-old Kyle. With his girl-crazy's brother's help, Kyle must protect Dunston from the animal catcher and save them from the fiendish thief -- and try to get his father to believe him.
Is it any good?
This film has all the ingredients for a predictable yet entertaining (if forgettable) family flick. The premise of two kids let loose in a fancy big hotel is cat nip for the elementary school set -- just think of Eloise and Zack and Cody, but with more bad behavior. The unsupervised bed bouncing Frisbee games and room service banana splits is the stuff on which day dreams are made. And the nonstop parade of monkey mayhem is the cherry on top. Knowing their audience, the filmmakers put Dunston on the chandelier, give him a cigar to smoke, a stuffed animal to snuggle, underwear to put on his head, and a 10-year-old boy to form a loving attachment with.
But beyond the gimmicks and pratfalls, DUNSTON CHECKS IN is nothing to write home about, nothing even to email home about. Paul Reubens' performance is the film's sole spark of non-formulaic storytelling. He is so good at just manipulating his facial muscles as the weird animal control expert that he foils Jason Alexander's limp noodle of a performance. This, one of his first post-Seinfeld roles, reveals how poorly Alexander does kids movies -- or anything but George Costanza.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about animal rights or simply the idea of training animals to do our bidding or entertain. Parents with younger children may simply want to discuss the similarities between humans and apes and the emotions that Dunston displays -- missing his brother, bonding with the young boy, and turning against his jewel thief owner.