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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 21, 1989


Caleb Deschanel
Aidan Quinn;
Ade Sapara

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Daniel Defoe wouldn't recognize "Crusoe," Caleb Deschanel's revision of the 18th-century classic. Here "Robinson Crusoe" becomes not a hoary tale of a castaway, but the glossy story of a good-looking Gilligan and his fuzzy dog Scamp. (What happened to ye olde Rover?)

The story begins in Virginia instead of England, and Crusoe (Aidan Quinn) is no longer a seafaring adventurer. He's a greedy and all-too-charming slave trader who gets his comeuppance while sailing off to kidnap more blacks. During the crossing, a tempest tosses his vessel into a reef and all aboard are drowned, except the rats, the dog and Crusoe, who washes up on a sumptuous island and sets up housekeeping. Eventually, if his chats with the dog are any indication, the experience makes a better man of him.

We miss Friday -- Crusoe without Friday is like Gunga without Din. Troubled by the racism inherent in the relationship between the men, screenwriter Walon Green sacrifices Friday in favor of an elusive island warrior. And in so doing, he weakens the story. Desperate for plot, the hero gets down on all fours and woofs at Scamp. It is man relating to dog, as boy related to horse in "The Black Stallion," the story of a boy shipwrecked with a horse on an island paradise. Since Deschanel directed the cinematography on "Stallion," the similarities between the two lavish productions are perhaps inevitable.

Quinn, a skinny, sincere sort, gives a performance in which primitive meets yuppie. It's "tarzansomething." Mostly he builds fires, eats bugs, hunts, gardens and fishes.

Eventually the mud-daubed warrior (Ade' Sapara) comes to the island, and the two circle each other warily. Quinn, armed with a pistol, sneaks about the rocks and caves like a cop in "Miami Vice." Through native ingenuity, the warrior takes Crusoe captive, and the cowed Virginian learns at last what it is to be denied freedom. No longer a moral savage, Crusoe is then rescued by a passing vessel and returns to civilization.

"Crusoe" makes a pretty, fairly tame voyage from an antiquated, salty yarn to a modern-day repudiation of slavery. It's lost its rhythms along the way, as well as its personality. Actually, it's like watching an aquarium.

"Crusoe" is rated PG-13 for violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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