A megalomaniac C.E.O. sends his son into the dangerous African Congo on a quest for a source of diamonds large enough and pure enough to function as powerful laser communications transmitters (or is it laser weapons?). When contact is lost with his son and the team, his sometime daughter- in-law is sent after them. She is a former CIA operative and, accompanied by gee-whiz gadgetry and a few eccentric characters (including a mercenary, a researcher with a talking gorilla, and a a nutty Indiana-Jones-type looking for King Solomon's Mines), sets out to rescue her former fiancé. What they all discover is that often what we most want turns out to be the source of our downfall. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
"Congo" is a lot of fun as long as you don't take it seriously. Because they share the author of the books they are based on, it is perhaps inevitable that in any review of "Congo" the film "Jurassic Park" will come up sooner or later. Yes, "Jurassic Park" vastly surpasses "Congo" in quality, but seeing as how the former is debatedly THE best example of a summer action flick, making that statement doesn't necessarily mean that "Congo" isn't worth watching.
In fact, "Congo" is a breathtaking thriller, probably only marred by its budget which causes some of the effects to look rather cheap, and descend into the B-movie territory. That being said, director Frank Marshall still manages to not only create a film that not only succeeds as an action film, but at times the tension grows so high that it almost could be labeled as a horror flick (though I highly doubt that that was the intent).
Yet there is some justification in labeling "Congo" as a horror film (at least in part). There are definitely some moments, particularly in the latter half of the movie, that are actually quite frightening. While the killer gorillas don't necessarily "look" scary up close, the savagery in which they attack and brutally murder people is pretty scary. In addition, the gore level is pretty high, especially for a PG-13 rating. The efforts on the part of the filmmakers to avoid an R rating is at times obvious, such as in some of the more brutal gorilla attacks, the picture is fuzzy and in slow-motion (these changes are not successful, and hurt the movie). Even as it is, the levels of terror and gore are high enough to make one wonder whether the PG-13 rating is appropriate.
"Congo" is not without its flaws. As I said before, the budget constraints make some of the effects look cheap, and at times lower the film to the B-level range. Also, the film takes a little too long to begin gaining momentum, which at times cause the film to drag (though the payoff in the latter half of the movie is well worth the wait). Finally, it is quite clear that Amy is a person in a gorilla suit (which given the complexity of the character was unavoidable). The killer gorillas don't suffer from the same fate, but they don't look particularly frightening (actually, they look rather sickly, however their actions quickly quash that notion).
Frequently, acting is not a strong point for most action-adventure films, unless the characters are rather unique (as in "Pirates of the Caribbean"). However, "Congo" is an exception. It features not one, but two standout performances. Tim Curry is great as Herkermer Homolka, the jewel-obsessed "Romanian philanthropist" (you can almost see his eyes take the form of diamonds. It's a typical Tim Curry role, but he avoids overdoing it and becoming annoying (which I guess he is, but in a good way).
But perhaps the biggest surprise is Ernie Hudson as the sarcastic, and ever so slick Monroe Kelly. It's all in the delivery, and Hudson delivers his lines with enough wit and bite to make him easily the most appealing actor in the movie. Had this movie been more popular, it would be reasonable to suspect that Hudson could have been up for an Oscar, as most of the nominees of the said award win for inferior performances. Laura Linney and Dylan Walsh are adequate, but given the staple hero characters they are given, it is probably unfair to expect more than what they give. Grant Heslov plays the neurotic sidekick that he usually plays (see "True Lies"), and it is pretty welcoming.
I don't understand why this flopped at the box-office. Perhaps because it had to live up to the reputation of "Jurassic Park," which is more than can be expected of any film.
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