August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Mighty Joe Young

Current Status
In Season
84 minutes
Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Action Adventure

STARRING Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron, David Paymer, Regina King, Terry Moore

DIRECTED BY Ron Underwood

The 1949 original had the big gorilla tearing apart a degrading nightclub act. An early draft of Disney’s remake shifted the melee to Las Vegas, but Underwood (Tremors) favored a ”more emotional” ecosystemic premise: Endangered by African poachers, 15-foot-tall Mr. Young finds shelter at a California conservancy, along with leggy surrogate mom Theron. Bad men try to shanghai M.J. from a kindly zoologist (Paxton), leading to a rampage on Hollywood Boulevard. Pressed for details about how Oscar-winning makeup whiz Rick Baker (Men in Black) worked magic with men in monkey suits (plus computer animation), Underwood deadpans: ”I believe Joe is real. Don’t ruin it for the audience.” (Dec. 18)

THE LOWDOWN Conceived as a steroid-pumped summertime beast, Joe got bumped to the holiday kiddie market. So don’t expect Jurassic-style violence: This Mighty Joe will skew very young.

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