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The boldest and most daring men
Have braved the jungle’s many threats:
Conquerors with no regrets,
Explorers seeking new assets,
Missionaries and cadets,
Who often stormed the devil’s den
And rarely came back out again.
Ha! What chance do you have then?

MPAA rating: PG-13

Sometimes you can just tell how hard a film is trying to be good, desperately striving to exceed its own mediocrity, and usually it doesn’t get there. I wouldn’t say Congo does either, but it sort of works its way around to so-bad-it’s-good status, which is more than some movies can say.

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As an adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel, I admire what Congo tries to be, an adventure story in the classic mold of King Solomon’s Mines or the Indiana Jones movies.  A research team for communications corporation Travicom goes missing in the jungles of Africa, and a collection of colorful characters converge to investigate the dangerous area for different reasons. Laura Linney’s Karen goes in search of the team; Tim Curry’s brilliantly smarmy Herkermer Homolka has shady designs on an ancient diamond legend; and Dylan Walsh’s Dr. Peter Elliot wants to return to the wild a gorilla he taught to speak with sign language and a robotic translator. Best of all is Ernie Hudson as their mercenary guide, whose cultured expertise proves invaluable, giving Hudson a role he clearly enjoyed.

There’s some great potential for this adventure as the team deal with unfriendly militias and a mystery jungle creature. To be honest, recalling it so soon after Kong: Skull Island, I couldn’t help but see a few similarities as the unsuspecting explorers are picked off in the jungle, though the killers are far smaller here. One scene with automatic sentry guns also brought to mind Aliens and Predator as the trespassers are besieged by simian beasts. By the time we get a lost city, a random volcano explosion, and an anti-ape laser, it’s obvious that this is more escapist silliness than anything.See the source imageWhile its adventure elements keep trying to spice up the absurd clichés, the growing daftness of the plot is hard to escape. It wouldn’t be so bad if one of the key characters wasn’t an animatronic gorilla with a hand-controlled robotic voice. I can’t say no movie can get away with signing apes since Rise of the Planet of the Apes did, but at least Caesar didn’t have a computerized translator. The rest almost works, but it’s hard to get past the talking, martini-drinking gorilla. Thus, despite its multiple Razzie nominations, Congo may not be an objectively “good” movie, but it’s not altogether bad either. Roger Ebert liked it; it’s a favorite of one of my coworkers; and I too found its cheesiness strangely watchable and entertaining.

Best line (or at least the most ridiculous): (Dr. Elliot) “Oh, no! The bad apes have the crystal lasers!”


Rank: Honorable Mention


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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