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Another Pretty Face
Basinger's 'Africa' Tells the Same Sad Story

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 5, 2000


If they cut the Kim Basinger parts out of "I Dreamed of Africa" and blew the remaining 11 minutes up to Imax size, it would be pretty good.

Visually, it's a stunner: the most spectacular landscape on Earth, a paradise of creatures unbound by time and space, thrashing and breeding in the bosky dells where dust, water, life and death commingle madly and lions roar, vultures scavenge, snakes slither and the big ol' buff 2,000-pounds-on-the-hoof of bad attitude and worse skin condition goes crashing through the underbrush. I love it when they do that.

But the story the film tells ruins the movie. I hate it when they do that.

Basinger plays some kind of divorced Italian socialite named Kuki who lives in what looks like Ralph Lauren's summer home in the Tuscan countryside. After an auto accident, she takes stock of her life while falling in love with the man who was driving when the crash occurred.

This man has proved to be a stouthearted loyalist in nursing her back to health. They marry; it seems he owns a farm in Kenya. And Kuki, her son Emanuel and new hubby, Paolo (Vincent Perez), head out to do the Isak Dinesen thing.

She had a farm in Africa: Nothing happened. That's the gist of the story.

Well, two people she loves die over the next 20 years or so. I'm very sorry, but people do die and it's not that remarkable, nor can much literary meaning be heaped upon it, as Kuki, in a spectacularly self-indulgent voice-over, is wont to do.

Kuki herself seems neither heroic nor particularly unique. As Basinger plays her, she is a plucky, fair-minded woman, a good wife and mom who holds things together. Well, most wives are like that, which is what's so good about wives. But the movie can't make the case that Kuki is any better than any of the many wives I have met in my life or even occasionally have been married to or will be married to. Women: They are good people, absolutely.

As for Paolo, he's remarkably unremarkable himself. Though Perez is a beautiful man, Paolo is just a regular man.

He doesn't cheat and he works hard (though the movie doesn't dramatize the rebuilding of the farm from a ruin to a profitable cattle ranching enterprise), but he's like a lot of men drawn to rough frontiers: He loves to hunt and hang with the guys, he's imperious toward the indigenous life forms, he plays poker, drinks and smokes, and he's gone a lot. In other words, he's your average working cowboy.

Generally episodic, the movie wanders this way and that between its two big moments. They give Basinger a chance to show what she can do as an actress, and that's a lot in the sobbing, grief-crushed, life-is-crap department. I'm still wondering, however, why they made a movie of this mild and unsurprising story.

I suppose a big movie critic thing could be made out of the fact that the director, Hugh Hudson, is one of those Brits who came out of the ad game in the early '80s ("Chariots of Fire") and seemed to dominate the movie biz for a while. Another was Ridley Scott, whose "Gladiator" will almost certainly crush "I Dreamed of Africa" at the box office this weekend. So one Brit is up and another is down. Isn't that "ironic"? Well, er, no. It's not even that interesting.

I DREAMED OF AFRICA (115 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for animal carcasses and emotional death scenes.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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