Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.
Release Date: December 19th, 1986 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: John Guillermin Actors: Brian Kerwin, Linda Hamilton, John Ashton, Peter Michael Goetz, Frank Maraden, Michael Forest, Leon Rippy
t begins by replaying the final moments from the previous film (1976’s “King Kong”), which featured damsel-in-distress (and aspiring actress) Dwan (Jessica Lange) being carried up the World Trade Center by the titanic King Kong, before he’s shot at by military helicopters as paleontologist Jack (Jeff Bridges) looks on in horror. After the beast falls to the plaza below in a heap of fur, blood, and concrete, it’s assumed that the mighty monster is dead. But the Atlanta Institute in Georgia manages to transport the corpse back to its facilities, where, after ten years and the sum of $7 million, Kong is determined to be alive but in critical condition. As luck would have it, the simian’s heart still pumps, but since there are no other species whose plasma will transfuse with him, his comatose state is the only thing preserving his life.
Just in the nick of time, jungle explorer Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin) locates a female of the gargantuan primate species, which he sells to Dr. Andrew Ingersoll (Peter Michael Goetz) at the university. The doctor only wants its blood, but it’s too risky to allow the specimen to fall into the hands of a rival, such as Harvard – especially if Kong doesn’t survive the operation (conducted with enormous cutting tools and other oversized equipment). And that medical procedure is in the hands of skilled surgeon Amy C. Franklin (Linda Hamilton), who strongly opposes bringing a female into Kong’s presence, as it might upset the delicate nature of the situation. “That monkey’s gonna make me rich!”
Although “King Kong Lives” is a direct sequel, the original cast doesn’t return. And that may be for the better, since Lange – in particular – created more unintentional humor than any one film can handle. But the new actors aren’t all that much better, with Kerwin taking the lead as a goofball with overly cheesy dialogue (Hamilton, on the other hand, does fine with what little she’s given). Perhaps this is because Dino De Laurentiis is still the producer, and John Guillermin reprises his role as director; neither one makes decisions for a serious adventure picture, instead opting to prioritize the furry behemoths and their corresponding effects.
Unfortunately, those special effects are predominantly just man-in-a-suit gimmicks (Peter Elliot is Kong and George Yiasomi dons the costume of “Lady Kong”), paired with green-screen or split-screen photography and miniatures to aggrandize sizes. The few shots of just a colossal hand or foot prop interacting with actors are actually the most visually amusing moments. Yet once again, every time a hint of action arises, it’s quickly abated by the new central conceit: Kong’s love story. And, sadly, the silliest scenes involve the two gorillas alternating acts of flirtation or rebuffs, while Mitchell and Franklin conspicuously (and unconvincingly) ape the apes’ maneuvers.
As if no fresh ideas for human/ape dynamics can be mustered, a collection of scholars are interested only in financial possibilities; a smattering of scientists are forever sympathetic to the animals; and the Army is a force of evil, intent on destruction, here helmed by overzealous and unfeeling Lieutenant Colonel A. Nevitt (John Ashton), who takes pleasure in seeing the beasts suffer. At least, a portion of the tale occurs away from the jungle and the big cities, which changes up the source of supporting instigators and victims (though not their motives). But there’s still far too much comedy; any sense of awe (of which terribly little exists) is drowned out by constant, immature, generic attempts at laughs.
– Mike Massie