For a few brief and brilliant minutes, a feel-good family drama between man and ape Gigi and Nate it looks like it will go beyond its Movie of the Week setup. Veteran cinematographer Elliot Davis has worked with Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee, and there’s an undeniable flair in the way he catches high schooler Nate (Rowe) cliff jumping with friends, a dive which leads to a shocking case of meningitis that leaves him paralyzed, which leads him to get a service monkey: a capuchin called Gigi. Cherish these moments, because Gigi and Nate quickly becomes exactly what you fear.
The dragging runtime will have you yearning for the 90-minute brevity of a Hallmark Channel movie — which probably would have served the story better. Gigi literally doesn’t leave her cage for the first hour, and only then to be chased around the house (or at least a CG version of the real capuchin) by the family dog. The hijinks and hilarity fit the feel-good vibe of the endless opener, but are completely at odds with the rest of the story, in which a group of cartoon animal rights activists lay siege to the Nate’s wealthy middle-class family in their gated home. They’re stiff tut-tutting villains, led by Welker White as a cliche who gets a name but might as well be called Karen-Bot 3000. Of course, they get doused in ownership by Diane Ladd as a stereotype from Southern grandmother Mama Blanche, who pops up to deliver folksy homilies — which is basically what this whole movie is about. A long, predictable story about how we don’t save animals, they save us.
It’s an inexplicable change of pace for director Nick Hamm, who is best known for grittier material like that of Neil LaBute. full circle, and one could only wish there were even flashes of his best work. Lumpenly scripted by Friday night lights writer/producer David Hudgins, it’s a disconcerting disappointment, denying any nuance or even a hint of balance (animal rights activists are bad! veterans, many of whom simply serve as decoration for dressing up , so much the better !). This undermines his own point when it comes to Gigi, who seems to be there mostly for cute sight gags. And if anyone could be expected to bring at least some tension and texture, it would be Hamm, the director of the Irish political drama The trip; instead, the narrative descends to a community theater version of Mr. Smith goes to Washingtonas Nate tries to convince Tennessee lawmakers not to ban service animals.
This political clumsiness would not really be a problem if Gigi and Nate were not a clear advocacy piece. It’s a call to action with no banners to rally behind, sanitized to the point of innocuousness. No one asks for a new one The Diving Bell and the Butterflybut our four-legged friends deserve so much better.