Directed By: Frank Marshall
Starring: Laura Linney, Tim Curry, Dylan Walsh
Tag line: "Where you are the endangered species"
Trivia: Director Frank Marshall originally intended to use the computer work pioneered on Jurassic Park for the gorillas, but opted for models as the computers weren't capable of reproducing hair
Following the success of Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg's dinosaur adventure based on a novel by Michael Crichton, it was only a matter of time before another of the author's sci-fi tales would make its way to the big screen. But where Jurassic Park was a bona fide box-office hit, 1995's Congo is, at best, hit-and-miss.
Scientist Karen Ross (Laura Linney) an employee of a Houston-based communications company, is sent to Africa to research the disappearance of a previous expedition led by her fiance, Charlie (Bruce Campbell), which was attempting to track down a rare diamond. Joining her on the journey are anthropologist Peter Elliott (Dylan Walsh), who's releasing his trained ape back into the wild, and a Romanian philanthropist named Homolka (Tim Curry), who is, in reality, a fortune hunter in search of the lost city of Zinj, the rumored resting place of the treasure of Solomon. Along with their guide, Capt. Munro Kelly (Ernie Hudson), the trio trek deep into the jungles of the Congo, oblivious to the dangers that await them as they draw ever closer to their destination.
Congo definitely has its share of problems. For one, a number of its minor characters are never fully developed, and as a result, come across as phony. Perhaps the worst offender is R.B. Travis (Joe Don Baker), the chief executive of the company Karen works for. When he learns the first expedition met with a violent end, R.B. loses his cool, smashing a television monitor with a golf club and cursing up a storm, not because he's concerned for his employees' safety, but because it means he won't be getting his diamond. His callous attitude towards the well-being of his people, one of whom was his own son, felt incredibly cartoon-like, and I didn't buy him for a second. What's more, events early on unfold way too rapidly, as if the filmmakers were in a mad rush to move things along as quickly as possible. The main characters go from sitting on a plane one minute to the middle of an airport shootout the next. Moments later, they're bribing an unscrupulous General (played by Delory Lindo) to gain their freedom, only to find themselves aboard another plane, which is shot down as it approaches the jungle. Even more amazing than these unlikely adventures is the fact not a single character seems the least bit phased by any of them!
So, what works? Well, for starters, Congo is beautiful, with breathtaking shots of the African landscape that bring a sense of genuine excitement, overshadowing the artificiality of the initial scenes. The film also gets a lot more interesting as the story progresses, reaching its zenith when the group inadvertently stumbles upon the city of Zinj, and come face-to-face with the creatures that have guarded it for thousands of years.
Congo does eventually lose its way again (its ending sequence is as ridiculous as some of its earlier ones), but there's a solid section of true entertainment jammed into the middle of this film, and while I can't quite go so far as to recommend Congo, I wouldn't call it a complete failure, either.