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Film review: Born to Be Wild

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"Born to Be Wild" is sort of "Monkey Trouble" with a gorilla. It's "Free Willy" on land. It's "Bela Lugosi Meets the Brooklyn Gorilla" . . . without Lugosi or Brooklyn.

Young Wil Horneff ("The Sandlot," "Ghost in the Machine") has the lead as 14-year-old Rick, a troubled California youngster who is really giving his mother (Helen Shaver) a hard time. As a result, Mom — a university behavioral scientist working with a female gorilla that is caged in her lab — gives Rick the job of cleaning up the gorilla's cages on a daily basis.

Rick's mother has taught the gorilla — whose name is Katie — to communicate with sign language, and since Rick knows how to sign (his late grandmother was deaf), he and Katie soon strike up a relationship.

But Katie is on loan to the university by her owner, nasty Gus (Peter Boyle), who has a flea market with another gorilla on display in the middle of his store. When that gorilla dies, Gus wants Katie back.

Since Katie has become Rick's only friend, he is, needless to say, a bit upset at the prospect of losing her. And he knows Katie isn't very happy as a sideshow attraction.

So, Rick recruits schoolmate Lacey (Jean Marie Barnwell), a save-the-wildlife advocate, to help him rescue Katie. And soon Rick and Katie are in a hijacked van on their way to Canada, hoping to get some help from Lacey's hippie uncle (John C. McGinley) who lives in Washington. Meanwhile, hot on their trail is a pair of bumbling cops (Tom Wilson, Titus Welliver).

This is silly kiddie stuff, of course, aimed at small fry who won't care that Katie is actually somebody in a gorilla suit, or that the movie has plot holes large enough to fit King Kong, or that everyone here is histrionic and over the top, or that seeing a gorilla getting a bubble bath isn't particularly funny to anyone over the age of 5.

Or that having Katie testify in court — under oath — by using sign language is more idiotic than amusing.

This is not just for the very young . . . it's for the undiscriminating very young.

"Born to Be Wild" is rated PG for violence and a few mildly vulgar remarks.