The movie opens with a freighter transporting the 36 foot tall titular ape from points unknown, though one sailor mentions it was picked up in Harlem and is being transported to Disneyland. I’m not sure if that is an attempt at comedy or just plain racist, it’s quite hard to tell in this film, but it’s clear that this movie’s $23,000 budget could not afford to give us Skull Island, and the toy boat we see in this opening scene is indicative of the effects this movie will bring us. For some reason the ape awakens early and starts to smash his way free. “Oh shit,” exclaims one of the sailors, and by “exclaim” I mean deliver it in the deadest monotone possible. The acting in this movie goes from the hilarious to the hilariously bad. The ape escapes the flaming wreckage and then proceeds to fight a giant shark, and that the shark in question isn’t a terrible constructed prop but an actual shark is a bit off-putting. If you thought Rick Baker in an ape suit wrestling a big rubber snake in the DeLaurentiis King Kong was lame wait until you see A*P*E wrestle a dead shark.
Hey, if you are going to rip-off King Kong why not take a shot at Jaws as well?This scene is not helped by how bad the ape suit looks wet or by the fact that the actors t-shirt is briefly visible during the “fight” sequence. The ape then wades ashore and proceeds to rampage through this seaside village, but really it looks more like a drunk stumbling home while trying to scrape dog shit off his shoe. A*P*E is not poetry in motion. Aside from the big ape the film focuses on four other characters; Captain Kim (Nak-hun Lee) a local police official whose claims of a giant ape terrorizing the countryside are ignored, then there is movie star Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns going by the name Joanna DeVarona for obvious reasons) and when she is arrives in South Korea she is met by a gaggle of press that includes journalist and ex-lover Tom Rose (Rod Arrants), who comes across as more of a stalker than a serious love interest. But the real star of this movie is Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) as the beleaguered American military officer who can’t believe he is stuck dealing with an oversized monkey, and he spends the first half of the movie in denial that this giant ape even exists.
“It’s a damn publicity stunt for the movie they are making.”If there were awards for “Phone Acting” Alex Nicol would have won all of them, almost all his scenes consist of him ranting into his phone, Nicholas Cage could take lesson from this guy on chewing the scenery. Nichol does not work alone as he has a Buster Keatonesque aide Lt. Smith (Jerry Harke) who spends his time silently writing notes while his boss loses his shit, and Harke's deadpan reactions to his boss's raving is comedy gold. It’s also Nicol who gets the film’s best lines such as “Hell with the press, I’m going to smoke this damn cigarette!” and “Let's see him dance for his organ grinder now!” when the ape is being shot to pieces by the military. But when Alex Nicol isn’t trying to win an Academy Award for overcooked ham we have to spend time with actress Marilyn Baker and Tom Rose. Tom continually tries to get Marilyn to either marry him or at least sleep with him, but she had asked for break from their relationship so that she could pursue her career and his response was to fly to South Korea to continue harassing her. He even crashes the rape scene she is shooting because rape and romance go so well together.
Note: The film’s director Paul Leder does a cameo here as Marilyn’s on screen director, and he’s given the name Dino which is an obvious jab at Dino DeLaurentiis, the producer of the big budget Kong remake, and given such great lines like...
“Remember Greg, rape her gently.”It’s while she is filming this movie that the ape spots Marilyn for the first time and becomes fascinated with her, she’s blonde and I guess that is something giant simians just can’t resist, but before grabbing the damsel he does spend time terrorizing children at an abandoned amusement park which had me waiting for one of the kids to exclaim, “That’s not a giant ape, it’s only Mister Jenkins the park owner!” The giant ape also beats up on a snake, interrupts a Kung Fu movie being made, and plays with a passing hang glider.
It’s while taking a much deserved break that he spots Marilyn.Tom and Captain Kim race after the ape, as well as much stock footage of military vehicles they could afford, and they catch up with the ape in some rocky terrain. Colonel Davis is upset that the authorities want to catch the beast alive, and the ape isn’t too keen on the idea either.
Is he flipping off the military or us the viewer?While the ape is swatting down toy helicopters Tom is able to sneak in and rescue, and then Captain Kim offers his home in Seoul as a safe place for Marilyn to hide. Unfortunately for us this leads to endless shots of Kim’s wife and kids putting on a marionette show for Marilyn. While this puppet shows goes on the death toll mounts as the ape leaves the countryside in search of Marilyn. Colonel Davis almost bursts a blood vessel when the stupid “scientists” still insist on catching the rampaging monster alive.
It’s also clear that South Koreans do not have the same model making skills as their Japanese counterparts.