"Born To Be Wild," a marketing construct of a film about a teen-age boy and a gorilla on the lam, is as bogus as the mechanical animal that's the butt of most of its slapstickish humor.
We first meet Katie, the gorilla, in a university laboratory in Northern California, working to learn sign language with a behavioral scientist, Margaret Heller (Helen Shaver), who enlists her 14-year-old son, Rick (Wil Horneff), to clean Katie's cage by threatening him with military school. Rick, an insolent juvenile delinquent-in-progress who blames his mother for his father's abandonment of the family, recoils at the smelly task, calling Katie a "hairball."
But he quickly learns to like Katie, feeding her M&Ms; and trying to teach her how to draw with finger paints. We learn early on that, despite his surliness, Rick is sensitive.
When Katie's venal owner, Gus Charnley (Peter Boyle) reclaims her for display as a curiosity at his flea market, Rick finds her desperately signing "out, out, out" and springs her one night while the lazy security guard, one of a string of bumbling adults, is watching a ballgame on television.
Rick and Katie go on the road in a stolen van after a stop at Rick's friend Lacey's house. Lacey, who ran for school office on an animal-rights platform, gives Rick a roll of cash and directions to the home of her eccentric Uncle Max (John C. McGinley) on the Canadian border.
What follows is predictable. Rick and Katie speed into a series of lamely comical situations in their mad race toward freedom. Except for one thing -- the bond between Katie and Rick is supposed to deepen on this journey as Rick learns about responsibility and friendship. But, bizarrely, Katie sometimes seems more like a girlfriend than a buddy.
Rick and Katie sack out in the back of the van where Katie hogs the space and inadvertently slugs Rick with her arm while rolling over. Then there's the heart-to-heart talk the duo have at Max's house while Katie is luxuriating in a candle-lit bubble bath reminiscent of "Bull Durham."
Though Horneff is engaging and real as Rick, this ignoble buffoonery is anything but.
'Born To Be Wild'
Starring Helen Shaver, Wil Horneff
Directed by John Gray
Released by Warner Bros.