MERYL STREEP tries yet another accent in "Out of Africa," a scenic biography featuring the actress as a Danish colonial on a Kenyan coffee farm.
Streep, overpowering as ever, plays Baroness Karen Blixen, whose memoirs, written under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, are the basis for this film set at the foot of the Nygong Hills.
It is a gorgeous, gushy and sometimes garbled account of the heroine's epic life, skimming her many tribulations to focus on her affair with a big game hunter played by Robert Redford. And the saga turns into Love Safari.
The relationship between Blixen and her lover Denys Finch Hatton is an idyllic series of outings among the gazelles -- picnics with poetry, beach parties, club dances and overnight hunts. It's an adoring, boring relationship, with the occasional brush with a Big Cat.
With Streep and Redford, you imagine something fabulous -- a lion taking a lioness, or vice versa, against a backdrop of antelope, with cat cries in the night. But these two mighty and evenly matched stars -- equal in size, shape and screen presence -- don't steam. It's like Ying and . . . Ying.
Blixen's relationship with her husband in an arranged marriage is hotter, though he gives her syphilis. It's a combustive match, the pragmatist versus the profligate playboy. Austrian powerhouse Klaus Maria Brandauer, a sullen blond, plays the promiscuous Baron Blixen, a rou,e who squanders her fortune and leaves her to manage a bankrupt coffee farm.
It's definitely a Streepish story of failed womanhood. But all the Streeping in the world cannot overcome the long and ineffective screenplay, which grinds on and on and on.
"Africa" works best when Blixen faces her plague-riddled life heroically -- crossing the plateau with a wagonload of supplies during the First World War, or pleading with the British to return the Kikuyu homeland.
The movie is a veritable babel of accents: Streep with her Danish, Redford with a stiff upper lip, Austrian Brandauer pretending to be Swedish and the Africans with their Kikuyu, not to mention a supporting cast of the eternally inscrutable British.
"Africa" might have been another "Gone With the Wind," blown by passion and buffeted by social upheaval. But in the end it's like a trip to a game park called Extinction. Blixen is no victor. She gives up, throws a garage sale and goes home to Denmark to write poetry, a broken woman. But that's the way the story goes.
Sydney Pollack of "Tootsie" and "Absence of Malice" directs and produces, with David Watson of "Chariots of Fire" directing the nature photography.