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King of the Jungle

Starring John Leguizamo
Written and Directed by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld

IN SHORT: John Leguizamo wants an Oscar. [Rated R for Strong Language, Some Violence and Drug Content. 90 minutes]

Well, who wouldn't? At this time of year that means we get to see way too many films skewed to showcasing one actor's individual talents. It's almost advertising for a nomination. If you've seen any of John Leguizamo's one man shows, many of 'em have been taped for cable, you already know that he's got a talent for creating characters. He's chosen a whopper in King of the Jungle, as a Puerto Rican/Jewish hybrid who happens to be mentally retarded. Seymour Weinstein (Leguizamo) is an obsessed NY Knicks fan who is determined to be an NBA player when he grows up. He's already grown up and he's too short and unaggressive to play pro, but the kid has his dreams.

That unaggressivness is key to the title; Seymour's friend Francis (Michael Rapaport) is a street peddler whose mission in life seems to be teaching his pal to defend himself. To fight back. To become King of the Jungle. Which is exactly what Seymour's protective mother Mona (Julie Carmen) doesn't want. Adding the word "dysfunctional" to the mix are Mona's lesbian lover Joanne (Rosie Perez) and his father Jack (Cliff Gorman), who is in 100% denial that his son is mentally challenged. His take? The boy doesn't apply himself.

Mona keeps busy organizing protests against police brutality, which doesn't do her or her family much good when some kid in a black cap comes looking for her, six-gun in his hand. That's the most developed sub-plot this story has to offer so we'll leave it there 'cuz you're all smart enough to figure out the gist. The motivation for the hunt is explained in about two lines of dialog in a scene that is, thankfully, long enough to call attention to itself.

Our problem with King of the Jungle is that, if a writer/director like Seth Zvi Rosenfeld is going to pack his supporting cast with known, hard-working and decent performers, then give them something to do. It is one thing to put all the emphasis on Leguizamo and another thing to let his character run around with a loaded pistol; if you're going to do anything but shoot the man down then you've got to build up the supporting cast (which also includes Marisa Tomei and Annabella Sciorra) and give them more to do. That doesn't happen here.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to King of the Jungle, he would have paid . . .


Rent it. The thing is, we happen to be a fan of John Leguizamo's stuff, comedy or dramatic. Learn to work and play well with others and you too could have a chance at a statue.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.