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HBO presents
King of the Jungle (2000)

"I am the king of the jungle!"
- Seymour (John Leguizamo)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: June 20, 2002

Stars: John Leguizamo, Marisa Tomei, Rosie Perez, Julie Carmen, Rosario Dawson, Michael Rapaport, Cliff Gorman, Justin Pierce
Director: Seth Zvi Rosenfeld

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence, drug content
Run Time: 01h:27m:21s
Release Date: May 21, 2002
UPC: 026359189227
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- CBC+ B-

DVD Review

It has become popular of late to dismiss the work of actors portraying someone with a mental illness by claiming that the roles are often showy and somehow undeserving of the praise heaped upon them. While this reaction may be deserved in some instances, there is little denying that it is the ability of an actor to portray such a character that they garner this praised. In the past several years, the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Sean Penn, Russell Crowe, and Leonardo DiCaprio have played mentally-challenged characters with awards success, as well as largely critical applauds for their films. Now comes King of the Jungle, a film focusing on the hardships of a man trapped in a child's mind, and its only praiseworthy element is the career performance given by comedian John Leguizamo.

Seymour (Leguizamo) is a mentally-challenged man in his late twenties, though his actions are closer to that of an eleven-year-old boy. With an IQ of just over 70, Seymour seems out of place amidst the hustlers and lower elements that line the streets of his New York neighborhood. His loving mother Mona (Carmen), as well as her lover Joanne (Perez), do their best to protect Seymour from the people in the neighborhood, which at times proves a difficult task. When Mona is murdered in front of Seymour, the violent act triggers something in him that breaks down his childlike fašade, which brings the realization that Seymour must now act for himself. It will not be easy, especially when it is considered that Seymour's all but absent father (Gorman) feels as though Seymour is faking his mental state and has no love or respect for his estranged son.

By reading the description on the packaging, as well as viewing the theatrical trailer, one might believe King of the Jungle to be a sort of revenge tale set against a man's struggle to acclimate himself to a world he is little prepared for. Instead, the film becomes no more than a muddled series of events set against a backdrop that is almost always questionable. The early scenes feature Seymour's closeness with his mother as well as his difficulties fitting in amongst others in his neighborhood and it was in these moments that I had a fondness for the film. But as the film progresses, it simply meanders from one scene to another with no cohesive feel that left me lost and ultimately uninterested.

Writer/director Seth Zvi Rosenfeld seems to be unsure of how to handle the material, as the overall emotional aspect lacks the scale and nurturing needed to craft a compelling protagonist. Leguizamo does as much as he can to inject some dimension into Seymour, but I felt as if there needed to be more in the way of development, as well as exposition, of Seymour's struggles. We see some scenes showing his difficulties interacting with others and the friction that exists between he and his father, but the ultimate resolution of these subplots becomes laughable and confusing, rather than the clear and touching closure the subject requires.

If there is a reason to watch King of the Jungle it is indeed for Leguizamo's passionate and eye-opening performance that never feels fake or out of reach with the real life emotions that a person like Seymour would experience. I enjoyed the simplicity of Leguizamo's performance, the way that he never overemphasizes a certain part of his verbal or body language; it is an honest, understated, and terrific performance. The supporting cast does not fare as well, however, as performances by Rosie Perez (Rosenfeld's wife), Anabella Sciorra, Cliff Gorman and Marisa Tomei are painfully off the mark.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a full-frame transfer King of the Jungle offers a transfer that, while not eye-popping is still of average quality. There is a heavy amount of grain noticeable in many scenes, though the low budget undoubtedly has something to do with this. The muted color palette is represented nicely, with the drab colors of the inner city well defined. Overall this is not a terrific transfer, but simply an average one.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: A Dolby surround track is offered in English and Spanish and for the most part the English mix is limited only to the center channel. Unfortunately the center-channel track is mixed at a very low level that caused me to turn my receiver high above my usual benchmark.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Seth Zvi Rosenfeld, Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A feature-length commentary track by John Leguizamo, Rosie Perez, and Seth Zvi Rosenfeld leads off the few extra features on HBO's DVD for King of the Jungle. The track consists largely of the actors and director praising the numerous people in the cast as well as other crew members, which is fine to a point, but towards the end of the track it becomes repetitive. The most interesting aspect is the revelation that Rosenfeld's father befell a tragedy similar to that depicted in the film and the discussion of the fine line between real life and film is often hard to see, which does make this track stand a little higher than the crowd.

A short featurette on the making of the film as well as the theatrical trailer and cast and crew bios round out the extra material on the disc.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I didn't like King of the Jungle for the simple reason that it is a film that seems to be looking for a meaning it never finds and wastes a brilliant performance by John Leguizamo.


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