Release Date: June 9th, 1995 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Frank Marshall Actors: Laura Linney, Dylan Walsh, Ernie Hudson, Tim Curry, Grant Heslov, Joe Don Baker, Mary Ellen Trainor, John Hawkes, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
n Houston, Texas, Professor Karen Ross (Laura Linney) makes a satellite connection with Charles Travis (Bruce Campbell) and his team of explorers at the volcano Mount Mukenko in the Congo, where he claims that a chemically flawless blue diamond has been discovered – one so magnificent that it could revolutionize the communications industry (evilly personified by Joe Don Baker as R.B. Travis, a hush-hush, paranoid corporate bigshot [“I need a new cash machine!”] who cares little for human life). When the camp site is attacked by what looks like a gorilla, Travis panics, insisting that Ross journey down there herself to find out what happened. And, most importantly, to recover his valuable diamonds.
Meanwhile, in Berkeley, California, primatologist Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh) and his assistant Richard (Grant Heslov) experiment with the first machine that can translate the sign language of a gorilla – in particular, a young female called Amy – into vocalized speech. With this technology, these scientists can essentially decode what animals say to one another. Just as Elliot finds funding from a Romanian philanthropist (Tim Curry) to take Amy back to the jungle, Karen joins the party (taking over the $56,000 jet fuel bill). With her connections, they’re all able to skip customs and find ways around the vicious civil war breaking out across Central Africa (specifically around the Zaire border).
“Are you serving that ape a martini?” With the sarcastic dialogue, a few jokes (including both Curry and Heslov’s roles, which are almost entirely comic relief, and the inappropriate hilarity of a penis-leech), and the references to Dr. Dolittle, it’s evident that “Congo” isn’t trying to take its premise all that seriously. Yet an opening scene that contains a yanked-out eyeball and a brained victim or two is a touch more graphic than one might expect from this film, which was adapted from a Michael Crichton novel and released just two years after “Jurassic Park.” Plus, Amy is initially used for humor more than awe, despite looking moderately convincing as a person-in-an-ape-costume interacting with human actors. In close-ups and from afar, her movements and facial expressions are much better than expected. And this choice was certainly superior to attempting a computer-animated version.
“Well are you so certain there aren’t some kind of gorillas that kill?” It takes a considerable amount of time before the main antagonists show up, though supplemental obstacles contain marginal amusement. The sets and sequences for exploration are also mildly interesting, as they build to an inevitable confrontation. But it’s the killer apes that provide the monster-movie payoff, especially as the tactics for combating them begin to resemble those seen in “Aliens” (while the escape attempts often feel reminiscent of “Predator”). These villains have less of a barrier in overcoming their phony appearance, since they’re mutant creatures rather than normal primates.
And though there’s plenty of adventure, it’s not particularly adventurous (such as a human/ape tandem skydive, shooting down heat-seeking missiles with flare guns from an airplane, and the subplot of hunting for King Solomon’s treasures). This problem occurs because the action sequences are used primarily as transitions between scenes (such as navigating rapids or contending with an ambush at an airfield) rather than as significant parts of the story. In addition, the characters are so generic or undeveloped that it’s difficult to care when they’re picked off one by one, or when they’re engaged in some nerve-wracking plight. “Congo” is riddled with faults, but it’s still watchable in rare parts – if only for the infrequency in which nature-gone-amuck creature-features come to theaters.
– Mike Massie