*½/**** Image C Sound C
starring Jason Alexander, Faye Dunaway, Eric Lloyd, Rupert Everett
screenplay by John Hopkins and Bruce Graham
directed by Ken Kwapis
by Walter Chaw The old showbiz maxim of never working with children or animals is one violated with such regularity that I guess the otherwise sensible and talented Jason Alexander could be forgiven for Dunston Checks In. There is, in truth, very little else forgivable about the benighted exercise.
Little Kyle Grant (Eric Lloyd) is one of single dad Robert's (Alexander) two boys, the three of them living in a five-star hotel where Robert is the concierge. On the weekend, a snooty hotel critic (Glenn Shadix--Otto of Beetlejuice) and the hotel's evil manager (Faye Dunaway) arrive; so, too, comes a cat burglar (Rupert Everett) with his "Murders in the Rue Morgue" criminal co-conspirator Dunston (an orangutan) in tow. No one believes Eric when he says he's seen a "monkey," even as slapstick disasters begin to threaten the hotel's ranking--as you might imagine, a series of loud nothings erupts around badly-timed sight gags and head-slapper slapstick. Eventually, monkey hunter La Farge (Paul Reubens) is summoned to deal with the occasionally threatening but mostly benign creature, and the whole production limps across the finish line with nary a whimsical slide-whistle to send it on its way.
Directed by Ken Kwapis in a hyperbolic jump-cut style matched twitch-for-twitch by a score by the late Miles Goodman, whose oom-pah-pah legacy, sadly, lives on in other kid and animal films like K-9 and Problem Child, the film is a jittery, discombobulated mess. Dunston Checks In believes a children's movie to be defined by an indulgence in the worst habits of its performers: we have Everett in fright teeth, with a George Sanders affectation; Dunaway with her trademark rasp; and the monkey making fart noises and grinning broadly.
Only poor Alexander elevates the material, with a kind of quiet dignity that doesn't quite survive a scene in which he stumbles around screeching with an orangutan on his head; the moments he shares with his boys are free of histrionics and false notes. As they are the few parts of the picture that don't rely on volume and slipping on proverbial and literal banana peels, they also constitute its best parts. Not a primatologist by any measure by the way, I'm relatively certain that orangutans don't produce squeaking noises that sound like "uh oh." All the same, there are a couple of laughs to be had in Dunston Checks In, though its audience is extremely limited and its value is ultimately just as a way to keep your children quiet and pliant for ninety minutes.
Fox checks in with a spotty 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Dunston Checks In on one side of a DVD and a fullscreen pan-and-scan version on the other. Both look as though they've undergone the same amount of cleansing, unfortunately, with muted and extremely soft colours and a low level of grain throughout. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundmix has some problems with its centre channel volume, the dialogue swallowed up a time or two by the myriad offences of the industrious Goodman score. The rear channels get nearly no time despite the clamorous shenanigans, while the left and right channels are used only sparingly. A short featurette goes the cute route by treating the monkey like a starving actor "discovered" in a variety of odd jobs but is otherwise the same old sycophancy. A trailer rounds out the sparse presentation. Originally published: May 28, 2002.