Director Frank Marshall's grandiloquent attempt to make palpable a scattershot potpourri of sci-fi and jungle movie notions is rather pathetic.
Unfortunately, it's not "so bad that it's good." Hence, with not even a future among the stockpile of campy science fiction works, the motion picture in question is itself becoming an endangered species as we speak.
Congo is about what all these sorts of flicks are about: Greed, adventure, more greed, scientific discovery, yet more greed, some ecological concerns thrown in just for good measure, and then even more greed.
One saving grace, a nostalgia quotient, is the notion of a safari. Gosh, it has been a long time since we've packed our gear and traipsed through the rain forests; only the most die-hard campers need know that Congo was filmed not in darkest Africa, but on a sound stage in glitteringly bright Hollywood.
However, what is bound to disappoint most are the mundane properties of personification attributed to Amy, the precocious gorilla at the core of this adventure yarn. Able to speak via a contraption designed by her human soul mate, primatologist Peter Elliot, the lady gorilla first learned to express herself by sign language.
The good doctor then upped the conversational ante by fitting Miss Monkey with a machine that translates signing into voice. It's cute for a second - "Amy is good gorilla," etc., etc. - and then the thrill quickly wanes. Don't worry, Cheetah; this actress (whoever or whatever it is in the gorilla costume; it's never divulged) can't hold a banana to your artistic masterstrokes.
Due to the aforementioned sundry motives, a motley crew of fellow campers just happens to form. Dylan Walsh is pitifully drab as the goody-two-shoes, Dr. Elliot, an altruist bent on returning his depressed primate to her homeland. Karen Ross is profoundly uninteresting as scientist Laura Linney, an ex-C.I.A. operative who now earns her bucks in the employ of a ruthless communications mogul. Monroe Kelly is a tongue-in-cheek switch on the great white hunter, played by black actor Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) with a David Niven accent. Tim Curry is gadfly Herkermer Homolka, a frightfully inconsistent persona, but, with dubious honour, the film's best character portrayal just the same.
Homolka, a self-proclaimed Romanian philanthropist, is actually an opportunistic cad in search of King Solomon's Mines and the priceless diamonds that therein lie. Who isn't? His dialect is a laughable melange of Transylvanian incantation and Scottish brogue. A dozen or so others are better left nameless as they are soon most violently dismantled by a tribe of uncharacteristically vicious gorillas, and so there's really no percentage in getting attached.
This movie really has a hard time of it. That is, it's not like all the king's men and so on didn't do what they thought was their best. You can see that screenwriter Shanley is desperately trying to find and legitimise a venue somewhere between clinical and campy, but to no avail.
Director Marshall seems less in control, obviously overwhelmed by the bombardment of special effects provided by George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic. The misdirected worship of Indiana Jones' sensibilities pollutes the movie's potential for scientific inquisitiveness, and winds up proving the filmmaker's very own temple of doom.
In the safari movies of old, they lamented the ever-shrinking wilderness as a metaphor for innocence lost. With this safari in l995, we bemoan the day when scintillating story could take precedence over the latest scientific marvels of movie making. For a while, all the neat gadgets Dr. Linney brings along are truly dumbfounding. Then, they're just dumb.
Technology becomes a bore. It's like the initially interesting guest at a party who, not knowing when to stop imbibing, becomes a boor.
Everything in Congo eventually falls down and goes boom, at least twice, and by every hackneyed method from exploding volcano to laser. If there is a saga here somewhere, surely it gets lost in the special effects shuffle.
Hey, and how about that actor in the ape outfit. They could at least have bedazzled us with a robotic gorilla. Avoid Congo and they won't be able to make a monkey out of you.