Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Film Review: CONGO (1995, Frank Marshall)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 109 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Laura Linney (THE TRUMAN SHOW, TALES OF THE CITY), Dylan Walsh (NIP/TUCK, ARCTIC BLUE), Ernie Hudson (GHOSTBUSTERS, THE CROW), Tim Curry (CLUE, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW), Grant Heslov (TRUE LIES, ENEMY OF THE STATE), Joe Don Baker (CAPE FEAR '91, CHARLEY VARRICK, MITCHELL), Mary Ellen Trainor (DIE HARD, THE GOONIES), James Karen (THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, MULHOLLAND DR.), John Hawkes (DEADWOOD, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN), Peter Jason (THEY LIVE, PRINCE OF DARKNESS), Bruce Campbell (EVIL DEAD, ARMY OF DARKNESS), Taylor Nichols (METROPOLITAN, BARCELONA), Delroy Lindo (MALCOLM X, CLOCKERS), Joe Pantoliano (MEMENTO, THE MATRIX, THE SOPRANOS), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (LOST, OZ), and a special appearance by Jimmy Buffett. Music by Jerry Goldsmith (ALIEN, GREMLINS). Edited by Anne V. Coates (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE ELEPHANT MAN, OUT OF SIGHT). Based on the novel by Michael Crichton (JURASSIC PARK, ER, WESTWORLD). Screenplay by Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley (DOUBT, FIVE CORNERS, MOONSTRUCK).
Tag-line: "Where YOU are the endangered species"
Best one-liner: "Are you serving that ape a martini?"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"What are you smiling about?"
–"CONGO, man. CONGO."
"I don't get it."
–"1995 was a magical year. The stars aligned. You see, in 1993, Michael Crichton's JURASSIC PARK was a runaway hit. In 1994, Crichton's ER took television by storm. Also in 1994, THE LION KING became the highest-grossing animated film of all time.  Therefore, a Michael Crichton action-adventure piece, featuring a character named "Dr. Ross" (though here, it's Laura Linney, not George Clooney), involving prehistoric creatures and African wildlife should have been the blockbuster of the year... Yes, indeed, the stars aligned on behalf of CONGO. But they did not create box office gold. No, they aligned to give us a cyborg gorilla named "Amy" who wears a No Fear backpack. And I'm more than okay with that."

"This looks like a tough sell to me."
–"Aren't you always claiming to be an intellectual?"
"I don't really see how that pertains–"
–"Don't you enjoy the dramatic word, courtesy of Academy Award, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley?"
"Sure, but–"
–"Then buckle up, cause Shanley has brought an advanced toolbox of dialogue-writin' skills, and he's not afraid to use 'em. You like alliteration? You got it, brother.

There were plenty of other ways to put that potted pleasantry, but none had the proper pithy, pompous pizazz."
"Okay, you can stop."
–"They're a regular Tracy and Hepburn over here. 'Are you a pound of sugar?'"

'No, babe, I'm a primatologist.' Are you taking notes?"
"I'll not have you poking fun at a giant of the American stage on my watch."
–"I'm not poking fun. I'm praising him. For instance, only a giant of the American stage could imbue a speech about monkeys in heat with such fluency and pop-culture poetry..."

"What's going on here? Is that Ernie Hudson? What are you trying to do to me?"
–"I'm not trying to do anything. Ernie Hudson, however, is trying his damnedest to save this picture. And, somehow, with his jocular demeanor and that measured twinkle in his eye––he almost succeeds.

As the dashing freelance adventurer 'Munro Kelly,' he uses Cary Grant-inspired over-enunciation and Clark Gable-ish flair to saturate the film with old Hollywood flavor.

Don't you just want to hang out with Ernie Hudson? Maybe he deserves a spin-off film that doesn't traffic in 3-D glasses and cyborg gorillas."

"Tell me there are good action sequences, at least."
–"I think any '90s action-adventure film is defined by its setpieces. Who can forget the storm drain chase from TERMINATOR 2, the hospital climax in HARD BOILED, the Keanu vs. Swayze foot race in POINT BREAK...? Well, in CONGO, who can ever forget the heart-stopping hippo-attack scene?"

–"Or this setpiece, which is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the Xenomorph perimeter attack scene from ALIENS, complete with automated gun turrets that are dangerously low on ammo?"

"So you've amply demonstrated CONGO's mediocrity. So what? I'm fairly certain everyone knew that already. Now you're just slandering John Patrick Shanley and making me feel bad for Ernie Hudson. What's the point of all this?"
–"You know me better than that. You know I devote myself to the subtle beauty of things like... Joe Don Baker screaming 'I NEED THOSE DIAMONDS!'"

"I can see that sort of thing in MITCHELL, JOYSTICKS, or CAPE FEAR '91."
–"But can you see an ape drinking a martini on a transcontinental flight?"
–"Can you always see a soupçon of well-meaning-but-disappointed James Karen?"

–"Or Joe 'Joey Pants' Pantoliano in a silly, uncredited, Hawaiian shirt-heavy role that essentially paraphrases Hunter S. Thompson?"
–"Or Bruce Campbell being terrorized by a camera-angle, straight out of EVIL DEAD?"

"I must admit, I'm intrigued."
–"Good. Let me raise you one bug-eyed, unbridled Tim Curry."
"My God. Are you ser–"
–"With an inconsistent Romanian accent, no less. Perhaps you'd like to see him eating sesame cake like a boss while an uncredited Delroy Lindo vocally disapproves?"

"This movie is a veritable roller coaster of human emotion."
–"Then you'll simply love this tender moment between Whit Stillman-standby Taylor Nichols and Bruce Campbell just prior to their horrific deaths at the hands of prehistoric albino gorillas."

"I'm speechless. Does this fit into the Stillman-verse? Is it supposed to be post-LAST DAYS OF DISCO?"
–"That'll be a question for the film historians. Finally, how do you feel about journeyman character actor and eventual Oscar nominee John Hawkes showing up for one scene where his only purpose is to wake up and scream 'AHHHH!' before he expires?"

"That's not even an 'under-five,' I don't think."
–"You're darn tootin', it's not. So how do you feel about CONGO now?"
"Eh, honestly, I think I'll just stick with JURASSIC PARK."
–"Alright. I have one last concept for you to wrap your narrow mind around. What about a Laura Linney action-movie one-liner?"
"It'd have to be a pretty good one-liner. Shanley would have to bring his A-game. It'd have to be as morally complex as DOUBT, with the pastoral poignancy of OUTSIDE MULLIGAR, and the quiet desperation of PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS."
–"Sure, sure. What if I told you there was a not only a Linney-zinger worthy of all that, but that it was accompanied by an albino gorilla-blasting laser gun?"
"I'd want to hear it spoken aloud."
–"Okay. So during a climactic moment of quiet desperation, mid-prehistoric-albino-gorilla-onslaught, Laura Linney brandishes a diamond-powered space laser. Ernie Hudson asks her what she intends to do about the prehistoric albino gorilla situation.

And then Linney, with a poetic sensibility worthy of the American stage that brought us Arthur Miller and Eugene O'Neill (or at least Golden Era Schwarzenegger) says:


Now what do you have to say about that?"
"Fine. You win. We can watch CONGO."
–"That's all I ever wanted. Now how's about a double feature with another great '90s primate flick, MONKEY TROUBLE, with Harvey Keitel and Thora Birch?"
"Don't push your luck, pal."

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