The carnival of Stoney Martin (Mark Weston) is going through some tough times as the punters are not exactly lining up in their thousands every day to enjoy the shows and rides. One of the biggest attractions is the tiger taming act of Kirk (Joe Cirillo), but the resident magician, Markov the Magnficent (Don Stewart), feels sympathy for the beasts kept locked up in their cages and likes to go and talk with them, much to Kirk's displeasure. So much so that the tamer orders Stoney to sack him for bothering his animals, completely unfair but Markov has a mysterious demeanour where he refuses to open up about his life before the carnival - and what it is that he keeps in his trailer that is such a secret?
All is revealed when Stoney confronts the mystic: within the trailer is a chimpanzee called Alexander the Great, and it's a very special chimp because Alex can talk! Not that he does a tremendous amount of that, indeed his conversation is limited at best to the odd wry remark, which you would have thought was a misstep on the part of the filmmakers: after all, if you're going to have a talking animal movie then surely you should take every opportunity to have it chat away? Then you see who the director was and it all falls into place. In spite of the threat of a sequel right at the end, this was one of the last movies of Al Adamson, the seventies schlockmeister extraordinaire who found the work drying up in the eighties, indeed Carnival Magic was his penultimate effort.
Nowadays Adamson may be better known for ending his days getting murdered and buried under his tiled bathroom than he is for his films, a sad state of affairs as no matter how terrible his life's work was, it was still better than that fate. Not that this was an example any better than much of his oeuvre, and the fact that a director who had made his name with a mixture of lurid sex and violence was now reduced to making children's movies did not reflect too well on anyone involved. No matter how wholesome the genre this was intended to belong to, what Adamson conjured up still had that unmistakable sleaze factor as if it was a mark of his dubious quality he was never going to leave behind, maybe not proud of it, but ingrained in his methods nevertheless.
According to producer Elvin Feltner, who concocted the storyline, the chimp they used - a thin-faced creature named Trudi - had been tested as the most intelligent of its kind, which rendered it all the more ignominious that she wasn't living it up in some BJ and the Bear-style prime time hit, and had been reduced to this sort of embarrassment. If chimps can feel embarrassed, that is. And you get the impression Trudi was rather discomfitted judging by her couldn't care less performance here, overdubbed with an E.T. the Extraterrestrial croak for what limited dialogue she was offered. Actually, Alex doesn't do all that much until the final twenty minutes aside from a Dukes of Hazzard-esque car chase with himself at the wheel and the cops in hot pursuit.
It's the same with Markov's magic act, Alex should be the centrepiece but for the most part sits at the side of the stage blowing the occasional raspberry as his owner offers such staples as the mix up the lady in the boxes trick, the lady being Adamson's wife Regina Carrol in her last role. If this sounds decidedly unspectacular, that's without even mentioning the romance between Stoney's teenage daughter Ellen (Jennifer Houlton) who used to be called Bud before co-worker David (Howard Segal) took a shine to her and she becomes a woman that day (or something), adding to the overall endurance test that a movie about a talking chimp really shouldn't have been. Look at Lancelot Link, or the PG Tips adverts - comedy gold. This, on the other hand, is comedy lead and dramatic lead as well, even with Kirk's nefarious plan to sell Alex off to vivisectionists who want to find out whether he really is the missing link, which builds to a supposedly heartrending finale. Topped off with a parade for Markov and Alex without Alex's participation, and Martin St Lawrence's plinky-plonky music, and tedium ensued.
Prolific American director of chaotic exploitation movies, who directed some 30 films between 1961 and 1983. The titles of his films were often the best thing about them, but the likes of Satan's Sadists, Dracula vs Frankenstein and I Spit on your Corpse are popular amongst bad movie buffs. In a nasty end worthy of one of his films, Adamson was murdered in 1995, his body found buried under his freshly tiled bathroom.