After "Being John Malkovich," one might assume that pairing lunatic screenwriter Charlie Kaufman with any director who cut his teeth on music videos is a sure-fire recipe for a groundbreaking, fiercely intelligent art-house hit. Here comes "Human Nature" to blow that theory all to hell. Teamed this time with Michel Gondry (who has shot promo clips for notorious swan fancier Björk), Kaufman takes several of "Malkovich"'s key concepts and reassembles them in the form of a simple-minded farce so atrocious that it practically dares you to remain in your seat.
The picture centers on a bizarre love quadrangle between an anal-retentive scientist, his faux-French lab assistant, a nature writer whose body is covered with fur and a feral beast-man whose human father only thought he was an ape. Dr. Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins) finds the prospect of taming the wild Puff (Rhys Ifans) an even better outlet for his deep-seated neurosis than his previous project: teaching lab mice to use salad forks. By simultaneously cheating on his hirsute lover, Lila (Patricia Arquette), with the ooh-la-la Gabrielle (Miranda Otto), Bronfman instigates a four-way power trip we're meant to take as a comment on "civilization" but is mere grist for the Kaufman/ Gondry mill of masturbation gags, gratuitous nudity and stillborn punch lines. In one asinine scene, the naked, furry Lila capers through the overgrown great outdoors, twittering, "Look at the hair! Everywhere! Everywhere!" She then proceeds to sing a song about the subject.
That sums up the full-frontal idiocy on display in "Human Nature," which totally lacks the brainy whimsy director Spike Jonze (here listed as a producer) brought to "Malkovich." Gondry has no idea of how to make Kaufman's subpar material work via compelling visuals or convincing performances. Only Ifans generates a mild spark; Robbins and Arquette appear to be half-asleep.
Base, venal and odd in all the wrong ways, this is one of the most disappointing films of the year.