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MONKEY SHINES * * Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil; written & directed by George A. Romero; rated R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity, drugs); Cineplex Odeon Holladay Cinemas, Cineplex Odeon Trolley North Theaters, Cineplex Odeon Trolley Square Cinemas, Mann 6 Plaza, UA Fashion Place Mall Theaters.

George Romero should stick to zombies.Or collaborating with Stephen King.

Or perhaps King should have collaborated on the script here.

Somehow, "Monkey Shines" looks like just so much monkeying around.

My favorite Romero horror films are still the first black-and-white "Night of the Living Dead" and the original "Creepshow." I admire also "Dawn of the Dead" . . . I just don't want to see it a second time . . . something about zombies eating internal organs in color puts me off. ("Martin," a lesser known film, is also interesting.)

"Monkey Shines" is Romero's latest, and it's a surprise on several counts. First off, the blood is minimal. In fact, this is the most restrained of any of Romero's films. Let's hope that's a trend.

On the other hand, the sex is not very restrained. Let's hope that is not a trend. (Sex, nudity and language largely account for the R rating; there is also some on-screen violence and drug use.)

Another surprise is how hokey much of the screenplay is. Romero knows how to build suspense and his directing on "Monkey Shines" is first-rate. But the screenplay, which he wrote from a book by Michael Stewart, could have used some help.

The story has Allan, a young, athletic law student, the victim of a tragic accident that leaves him a quadriplegic. Once out of the hospital, his girlfriend cheats on him with his doctor, his loving mother - perhaps a bit too loving - drives him crazy, and the nurse hired to help him at home makes Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" seem like the Good Witch of the North.

So Allan's best friend Geoffrey decides to help him out - though his motives aren't entirely unselfish. Geoffrey is onto a breakthrough formula at the local university, a serum using human brain tissue that he is injecting into one of his monkeys, named Ella, to make her smarter.

Ella is making a bit of progress, but Geoffrey wants to get her out of the lab environment and her neighboring monkeys. So Geoffrey contacts Melanie, who trains monkeys to act as servants for quadriplegics, and convinces her to train Ella for Allan.

Allan and Melanie fall in love, of course, but Allan and the monkey somehow link up telepathically. This causes Allan to go into wild rages and Ella to do his will automatically - even when Allan would rather she wouldn't. If he gets angry at someone, for example, Ella goes out and kills them.

As silly as all this sounds - and it is - Romero manages to get some real scares out of specific scenes, moments that almost redeem the rest of the film. Unfortunately, he throws it all away with a couple of climactic moments that are just too ridiculous and will likely have the audience laughing instead of shivering.

As usual, Romero uses an unknown cast and manages to get some pretty good performances from Jason Beghe, Kate McNeil and Romero's own wife, Christine Forrest as the hateful nurse. But John Pankow, as zonked out Geoffrey, steals the show - not an easy task when a monkey seems to be the star.

In the end, sadly, neither Pankow nor the movie's more chilling moments are enough to save "Monkey Shines."