Thursday, March 8, 2012

#570. Congo (1995)

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.


David Duprey said...

I enjoyed this movie for what it was. The book was much better as they usually are.

I have say this had a great cameo in the beginning by one of my favorite actors, who has become known of late for his constant cameos.

I don't know if this was intentionally left out of the review, but Bruce Campbell was the son on the first expedition. He has had cameos in Darkman (Face at end), Spider-Man 1 & 2, The Majestic, and many more.

DVD Infatuation said...

David: Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.

I'm a Bruce Campbell fan as well, and his early scene, albeit brief, did show some promise. Unfortunately, it...and he...didn't last very long. And yes, he played the boss' son, and the fiance, in the movie (Again, it was a brief part. He's there, and gone, in a matter of minutes).

The movie did have its moments, but it sounds like I'd be better off reading the book!

Thanks again

Barl3y said...

This movie was very poor IMO, and I'm quite easy to please.
Also, no one drank any Um Bongo. I was informed that they drink it in the Congo.....

(Sorry, very poor joke)

DVD Infatuation said...

Keith: I did enjoy the middle section of the film, but overall it was a lackluster effort.

And I didn't think your joke was so bad :)

Have a good day, and thanks for the comment

Mike said...

Frankly regardless of it's obvious flaws, I actually enjoyed this one a bit more than I did Jurassic Park. Perhaps reading the book beforehand made the film twice as good, or maybe it's because I simply enjoy cheesy flicks of all genres.