'Human Nature' Is a Snappy, Quirky Tale

Article excerpt

I was eager to see "Human Nature," because human nature is something movies don't exactly shower us with in this age of snazzy FX and eye-spinning camera work.

Then again, you can't tell a movie by its title, (the current "Big Trouble" notwithstanding).

"Human Nature" is less interested in its subject than about a long list of other things: table manners, naked bodies, electrolysis, and laboratory mice, to name just a few.

It's also an anthology of memories from other films, reminding me - intentionally or not - of everything from "The Wild Child" and "A Clockwork Orange" to "Young Frankenstein" and, most important, "Mon Oncle d'Amerique," the neglected 1980 masterpiece by Alain Resnais that could have inspired this whole picture.

In short, "Human Nature" sees human nature not as you'd expect a philosopher or an anthropologist to see it, but as you'd expect from, say, a French music-video director or a whiz-kid indie screenwriter.

And guess what? The picture was made by Michel Gondry, a French music-video director, and Charlie Kaufman, who penned the spirited "Being John Malkovich" two years ago. They're positively teeming with quirky ideas, but in this project they can't muster any insight or perceptiveness.

They'd probably answer that charge by saying the film should be judged as a whimsical fantasy, nothing more. They'd have a point if they hadn't called it "Human Nature," a title that doesn't overflow with modesty. As it stands, the movie has entertaining moments but doesn't have the surrealistic wallop its makers were clearly aiming for.

Tim Robbins plays Nathan, a mild-mannered scientist with an ambitious mission. Traumatized as a child by his parents' obsession with good manners, he's determined to improve our planet by bringing etiquette to the animal kingdom - seating mice at a dinner table, for instance, and jolting them with electric shocks if they choose the wrong salad fork.

Into his life comes another victim of an unhappy past. Her name is Lila, and she'd be considered beautiful if she hadn't acquired a coat of body hair as a teenager. …