Congo (1995)

23 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If you’ve seen “Congo” and read the above verdict, you might think I’m going ape. How can I recommend a movie with silly scenes, cheap gorilla suits, and a ridiculous Romanian character played by Tim Curry? Because I was entertained, darn it. “Congo,” despite its flaws, is an entertaining and funny jungle adventure story, loosely based on a novel by Michael Crichton.

Its villains hardly show up at all and when they do, it’s only briefly. Then, they barely have enough screen time during the climax of the film to become scary villains. But knowing they’re there is enough. The villains, who live in the Congo jungle, are killer gorillas, said to be a new, dangerous species that hunt and kill. As the movie opens, they make a victim out of Charlie (Bruce Campbell), whose father (John Doe Baker, chewing up the scenery) is a megalomaniac tycoon who sent Charlie to the Congo to find a rare diamond that will bring power to the industry’s newest weapon, which will “dominate the communications industry!”

Sent by Baker to find Charlie (but mostly bring back the diamonds) is Karen (Laura Linney), Charlie’s fiancée. When Karen confronts Baker when the diamonds seem more important to him than his son, he doesn’t care. She travels to the Congo with a primatologist named Peter (Dylan Walsh), who has taught an ape named Amy how to communicate by sign language to power a voice synthesizer…and also to drink martinis. He is going to the Congo to set the ape free, since she keeps painting pictures of the jungle.

Another character is thrown into the mix: a Romanian sinister figure named Homolka (Tim Curry). He’s along for the ride to find the city of Zinge (I’m unsure about how to spell it), which is said to hold many diamonds.  Now, Curry’s performance is the kind of performance you wish had a laugh track to go along with it. Every time he talks with that ridiculous phony accent—listen to the way he keeps saying the word “gorilla” and you’ll know what I mean. In fact, even before he says anything, the way he looks—the way he glowers—gets a laugh.

The best performance in the movie is given to Ernie Hudson. He plays their guide, Monroe Kelly, the “great white hunter who happens to be black.” He delivers his lines in such a calm and droll manner, that he comes across as a potential Clark Gable type. He’s terrific in this movie. And so is Linney, for that matter. She plays a female character that is strong and lends a helping hand for her male cohorts.

Anyway, once the group is in the jungle, the movie is good, dumb fun. They will go through many adventures—nearly get eaten by hippos, encounter a ghost tribe, run through a volcano, and be attacked by the killer gorillas. And they will say lines like, “Let’s get out of here while we still can” and “If you run—“ “He’ll chase me, I know.” Not to mention, “Why are they bringing out parachutes?” We also get some funny moments by Amy the gorilla, whose voice (through he synthesizer) sounds like a schoolgirl’s. I laughed when she drank the martini and moved the killer gorillas away, just by calling them “ugly.” It’s a good thing these moments are provided because I knew, right from her first shot, that it was a person in a gorilla suit playing the part.

Another dumb moment in the film: the group is informed that a ghost tribe is trying to bring a dead man back to life by performing a ritual. They go and watch and the tribe wave and point, while chanting, at the same spot. When they stop, Karen asks, “Where’s the man?” Where do you think, lady?

The climax of the film is  well-done. It has stunning visuals, great sets, awesome cinematography, and a real sense of adventure that you’d feel in an Indiana Jones movie (in fact, the director of “Congo” was a producer of the “Indiana Jones” movies).

Michael Crichton, whom I’ve said wrote the source material for “Congo,” was reportedly unhappy with they did with his book. I wouldn’t blame him—this is not in the same league as many other film adaptations of his books, like “Jurassic Park,” for example. Sure, “Congo” is trash. But it’s good trash. There’s such a thing as good trash, then it’s “Congo.”

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