Nothing can possibly prepare you for the inspired, out of body, bad movie lunacy that is The Island of Dr. Moreau. The famed H. G. Wells’ 1896 novel about a sadistic geneticist who plays God by creating hordes of pitiful man/beast monstrosities was filmed previously in 1933 and 1977. Ah, but then came the 1997 version on which original director Richard Stanley got dumped, veteran John Frankenheimer got rushed in, troubled co-star Val Kilmer suddenly demanded his role be substantially cut, Rob Morrow was brought on to play Kilmer’s role (then, later, exited) and Kilmer, who decided to play another role in the movie, clashed with titular star Marlon Brando who reportedly warned him, “Don’t confuse the size of your salary with the size of your talent.” Too bad all that didn’t get filmed. Anyway, the shambles of a movie we do have is fun a-plenty.
Harry Potter werewolf David Thewlis plays a U.N. peace settlement worker (which means, what, exactly?) floating half-dead on a rubber raft in the middle of the Java Sea while two crash survivors stab each other and end up as shark bait. Consider those poor slobs luckier than Thewlis, whom we hear reading narration that sounds like he was forced to record it at gunpoint, stoned or both: “They fought like beasts, not men … Our plane had crashed in the endless southern Pacific …” The castaway gets rescued by smirking, obviously out-of-his-gourd Val Kilmer who, when asked by Thewlis, “Are you a doctor?,” slyly replies, “Well, I’m more like a vet.”
In one utterly bizarre scene, Kilmer invites Thewlis to kiss the head of a live white bunny, then snaps the poor thing’s neck. It doesn’t look faked but we’re at least grateful the wild-eyed Kilmer didn’t next bite off its head. The creepily flirtatious Kilmer settles Thewlis into the compound’s posh Tommy Bahama-style accommodations and shoots him up with trippy drugs, crooning, “Oh, you’ll like it. I like it. A little Jimi Hendrix …” and with that, Kilmer trails off and pops his head to music apparently only he can hear. Dazed and confused, Thewlis prowls the grounds of Moreau’s island habitat to find suspiciously cat-like Fairuza Balk bumping and grinding to hypnotic island music apparently only she can hear. “She’s beautiful,” purrs Thewlis to Kilmer, who lurks in the shadows with a flower in his mouth, and purrs, “She’s a pussycat.”
Kilmer, who constantly stands thisclose to Thewlis like he’s about to go in for a kiss, reveals that not only is Balk the daughter of Moreau but also that the good doctor is alive and working: “He invented Velcro.” Soon after, Thewlis escapes the quarters in which Kilmer has locked him (“For your own safety,” he tells him) and discovers the island is overrun by hideously mutated man beasties, a lab full of terrified caged animals and a bizarre pregnant creature on an operating table attended by lab assistants who disgorge a bloody, monstrous fetus. But that’s just the warm-up for the horrors to come because then, in one of the most jaw-dropping entrances in the history of movies, Moreau himself -- played by Brando, once the movies’ most revered and imitated actor and major sex symbol – arrives on jeep looking like a flour-dipped whale wearing lipstick, big sunglasses, a matching white veiled sun bonnet, kaftan and gloves all the while waving like the Queen of the Loons to her creeping, crawling, deformed, increasingly angry “children.” The sight of Brando in sad, bizarro drag prompts Thewlis to cry, “This is the most outrageous spectacle that I’ve ever witnessed.”
Too soon, though, David, because from here on in, we’re barraged with such further spectacles as Brando playing “Rhapsody In Blue” on a piano duets with a pitifully scarred, identically-dressed Mini Me version and they’re both surrounded by talking Stan Winston-designed creatures that look about as scary as refugees from a Muppets movie. Then, there’s Brando imploring Balk to pour water into a tall tin hat contraption atop his head because, as he says, Blanche Dubois-like, in a campy Brit accent, “Well, I think I’m just simply going to perish from this heat … I cannot bear it.” It’s not the heat that’s likely to get to you, though, it’s the riotous laughter sparked by Brando’s unhinged prattling gobbledygookl, “I have seen the Devil in my microscope … I have cut him to pieces. The Devil is nothing more than a tiresome collection of genes.”
Crazier still, though, is Kilmer, who takes over as king of the island crazies, dressing in all-white Brando glad rags, whipping the beast men into a frenzy and even imitating Brando’s voice about as convincingly as some drunk on Open Mike Night at a comedy club. We guarantee you’ll be flabbergasted as the movie piles up shot after shot of Kilmer making absolutely no sense and coming up with oh-no-he-didn’t stuff like kissing one of Moreau’s sons on the mouth and telling him, “Well, things didn’t work out. Moreau wanted to turn animals into humans and humans into gods. But it’s instinct and reason. What’s instinct to a dog? I want to go to dog heaven.” We understand just how he feels because, whenever we want to go to hog heaven, bad movie style, we head straight for The Island of Dr. Moreau.