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Congo

Directed by Frank Marshall. Starring Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Tim Curry, Ernie Hudson, Joe Don Baker. (1995, PG-13, 109 min.)

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., June 16, 1995

Congo has everything – civil war, exploding airplanes, deranged hippos, rumbling volcanoes, murderous gorillas – and that's its trouble: It suffocates you with one faux thrill after another. Jawdroppingly bad, this adaptation of Michael Crichton's 1980 novel about a talking ape named Amy and a fabled lost city deep in the jungles of central Africa is as sophisticated in execution as a Jungle Jim movie. The clichés abound (I kept waiting for someone to mutter, “The natives are getting restless”), while the multi-million-dollar special effects look cheesy (the molten lava at the film's end gurgles across the screen like runny pizza sauce). Had Congo employed the breakneck pace of action-adventure films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, its shortcomings might have seemed less obvious. But with Spielberg protégé Marshall behind the camera, you're painfully aware of every ridiculous moment. (Didn't Steven teach you anything, Frank?) Equal fault must lie with fallen-from-grace screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck), whose script either uses a sledgehammer to communicate exposition or spits out critical explanations with the clarity of static. The actors in this misfire resort to affecting strange accents to compensate for the absence of dimension in their characters: Hudson finds creative solace in talking like Thurston Howell III, and – in the role of a Romanian treasure hunter looking for the riches of King Solomon's mines – Curry does Bela Lugosi with a mouth full of marbles. Most embarrassingly, Linney is called upon to be the film's über-gal, a telecommunications genius with a Ph.D., a former CIA operative who can handle any kind of firearm, and a chic dresser who always looks fresh on safari in her crisp Banana Republic ensembles. Only Amy, the precocious gorilla who communicates through sign language, comes off looking good in Congo, probably because she has the least amount of dialogue. By the time she's saved her teacher Walsh from killer apes and survived a cataclysmic eruption – all in the film's last 15 minutes – it's no small wonder that she's ready to find a home in the mist with her new simian family. Like the audience of Congo, she's had enough of this monkey business.
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