Friday, July 13, 2018


Frank Marshall

When the fiancĂ© of Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) goes missing in the Congo trying to locate special diamonds, she joins up with Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), a scientist looking to return a gorilla named Amy (Misty Rosas) to her home. Amy knows sign language and is outfitted with a special rig that can translate her signs into spoken words. Also along for the ride is Herkemer Homolka (Tim Curry) a shifty Romanian ex-pat who’s looking for a lost city, and Captain Monroe Kelly (Ernie Hudson) a former British military officer and now guide through the chaotic jungles of the Congo. Waiting deep in the jungle is a race of murderous white apes that will kill anyone who stumbles upon their treasure.

Congo is a B-movie sporting a mainstream release budget. Take away the high tech plot elements and you are left with a film that would feel right at home among the jungle adventure movies of the 1940s. It has all the hallmarks of those films, mysterious natives, banana republic dictators, random animal attacks, lost cities, treasure, and lots of gorillas. Being a 1990s era production we are given some (slightly) less racist takes on the locals, and a leading woman who doesn’t bow to authority or shy away from the action.

"Clever, uh... girls?"
With the story being based on a Michael Crichton novel, the technology is put front and center, but thankfully it serves to facilitate the action and not dictate it. The characters are colorful and fun save for Walsh’s Dr. Peter Elliot who plays sidekick to his talking gorilla pal and does little else. Ernie Hudson and Tim Curry seem to be very aware of what kind of movie they are in and have a contest to see who’s fake accent is the most outrageous. Bruce Campbell makes a sadly brief appearance at the opening of the film, but he makes the most of it and plays the role with the expected hammy charm.

A large number of the special effects are practical and have aged relatively well. The ape guards of the city of Zinj look great. Amy is less than convincing, possibly because the camera has to linger on her for long periods of time. There is a very noticeable shift when the film moves from location shooting to the set that encompasses the lost city. It is a great looking set, but it does look artificial. The film concludes with a lot of CGI lava that is probably best forgotten. This is PG-13 production, so there is a little on-screen violence but much of it loses any impact it might have had due to some heavy-handed cutting.

"What's sign language for, 'I'm going to scoop out your skull and wear it for a hat?"
Congo is deeply dumb and very silly. I can’t imagine this movie ever getting made with its budget and cast if it weren’t for the monumental success of Jurassic Park (1993). That said, I haven’t thought about this movie since I saw it in the theaters over twenty years ago, but found myself reasonably engaged on a rewatch. It is a weightless action film, but it has killer apes, lasers, and plenty of B-list stars to pass the time.

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