Let's clear the air. Near-lost treasure-rescuer company Kino Lorber, of which this producer/director/reviewer is an unabashed appreciator, says up-front, "Paul Leder (I Dismembered Mama) wrote and directed this cult classic that needs to be seen to be believed". How P.T. Barnum, must be rolling in his grave, because he had to lie to make such statements... Kino is telling the truth!
That said, i am not a fan of "movies so bad they're funny" because, stodgy ol' me, I just see the bad movie. However, A.P.E. tries to play up and send-up King Kong movies all at the same time, and when the jokes are so shockingly bad that, after the initial eye-widening effect, they do elicit laughs for the wrong reasons, you really have a gem of a juvenile party movie here. It's such a guilty please that after watching it I wanted to go to a confessional - and I'm not even Catholic! While this reviewer is on the subject of himself, let me say that i generally won't write a review of a bad movie because there are enough glib guys out there hurting peoples' feelings. But there is no possible way that anyone could have taken A.P.E. seriously, so I will gamble that offense could not possibly be taken.
In a nutshell, the story is a re-telling of King Kong without the Skull Island adventure and starts as the unnamed A.P.E. is in a cargo ship to be taken to be exhibited on some mainland. He breaks free and winds up in poor little South Korea, which co-produced this "movie", where he wrecks things and falls for Growing Pains' Joanna Kerns, who is so hopelessly miscast as the Marilyn Monroe type she is trying to emulate that one wonders if the producers of A.P.E. had ever previously seen a motion picture, let alone produced one.
It is plain that the co-production had two intentions; the Americans wanted to cash in on the publicity of the Dino DeLaurentis 1976 remake of King Kong and South Korea obviously wanted to show off their beautiful country to the world. South Korea is very lovely. A.P.E. is truly a disaster which must be seen to be believed.
The special effects are something of a rarity even for 1976; they hearken back to a lost past of very low budget films in which there is not one matte shot showing the A.P.E. and the people in the same shot... for scale, distance, general geographical relationship, or anything else. People look up and point in one shot, a slightly low angle of A.P.E. is then cut in after that shot. in other words, the effects are nothing but a guy in a truly terrible gorilla costume kicking some miniature buildings around. Not even in slow motion to make him look big. Just a guy in a gorilla suit.
The level of direction is illustrated well by the following moment. Now, suppose you're the director and the scene calls for the hero to run as fast as he can, heart pounding, to get to the girl captured by A.P.E. and rescue her as A.P.E. fights off the army. What do you do? How do you shoot it? Well, the typical thing would be to travel along with the actor at a fast clip, cutting closer and closer to him while inter-cutting scenes of the A.P.E. battle and the screaming girl, right? That's the usual thing. Well, A.P.E. often literally takes on the quality of a home movie shot by a thirteen-year-old. The moment described above is instead handled with a single shot in which the actor runs away from the camera, and keeps running, and keeps running, and keeps running, farther and farther with nothing going on around him,for maybe a full 20 seconds before he ducks behind a ridge. Yeah. It's like that. The 3D only emphasizes the fact that he is just "going away". Very funny, frankly, even to me.
The 3D should really be part of the behind-the scenes extras because the miniatures, shot in 3D, look even more like miniatures because the 3D totally gives away their tiny scale. The 3D in A.P.E perfectly shows us what is really going on: it's a 6 foot man in a gorilla suit kicking something here and there, approximately 14 feet away from the camera.
South Korea - poor South Korea, it's a nice place - must have believed in this thing because one amazingly impressive shot - all the more so in 3D - shows what must have been the entire Army helicopter squad for the country lined up on the ground. Our hero gets in and the helicopters, maybe 25 or 30 of them - big things, too - take off in formation. If the whole movie had been like that, at least the production values, if nothing else, might have been terrific.
In the final analysis A.P.E. is a fun time-killer, a college frat favorite party movie, and one could argue, a socially conscious art-house film, because in the shot following A.P.E.'s trashing of a miniature helicopter, the camera cuts to a close up of A.P.E. as he spins around and gives the camera his middle finger. It is too easy to imagine the art-house crowd, seriously discussing the film's intellectual virtues over latte, remarking how when the socialist A.P.E. from South Korea turns and gives the camera the finger, he is actually giving the finger to the capitalist American audience which, while wealthy enough to afford to go to a movie, just got ripped off by buying a ticket to see A.P.E. and in that moment, A.P.E.himself is letting them know it.
RECOMMENDED FOR 3D BUFFS, PARTY MOVIE FANS AND SEEKERS OF THE IMPOSSIBLY STRANGE.