In a genre that isn’t exactly overflowing with competition – one of the high points is Clint Eastwood’s lame Everything Which Way But Loose – Dunston Checks In is frivolous and funny enough to stand on its own.
Feisty and mischievous, with an adorable pair of droopy-dog eyes, Dunston is an orangutan being forced by his owner, Lord Rutledge, to rob the rooms of the five-star Majestic Hotel. Jason Alexander stars as Robert, the hotel manager who must free Dunston from his abusive owner while maintaining order on the eve of the hotel’s elegant Crystal Ball.
The movie is basically critic-proof. (Who am I to say that Dunston can’t act?)
To expect too much from this sort of fluff isn’t fair, which makes the movie basically critic-proof. (Who am I to say that Dunston can’t act?) The closest gauge to whether such a movie works is to compare the number of times the kids laugh to the number of times the parents groan. From that point of view, Dunston succeeds: The smiles on my 9-year-old sister-in-law’s face far outweighed the few frowns on my own. Dunston Checks In is a nicely paced series of gags that, while only mildly diverting for adults, are irresistibly amusing to kids.
Alexander, though working with material far inferior to what he is used to on Seinfeld, manages to turn in a charming variation of Charles Grodin’s infamous slow burn. Having the most fun on screen – and easily the most engaging to watch – is Rupert Everett playing the villain, Lord Rutledge, to the hilt.
As Dunston escapes and wreaks havoc throughout the hotel, the bits are sometimes routine (putting underwear on his head, sneaking into bed with Alexander) and sometimes inspired (watching Planet of the Apes, using a fanny pack while stealing jewels). For an hour and a half of harmless, cartoonish fun, Dunston will do.