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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 09, 1995


Frank Marshall
Dylan Walsh;
Laura Linney;
Tim Curry;
Ernie Hudson;
Joe Don Baker;
Grant Heslov
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Congo," the anticlimactic new monkey movie from director Frank Marshall, is B-team Spielberg all the way.

Shamelessly lifting themes and ideas from a handful of Steven's greatest hits—"Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T." and, most blatantly, "Jurassic Park"—this dubious, ersatz epic about the conflict between nature and technology in the heart of Africa wants desperately to have the sweeping muscularity of Hollywood's A-list action-adventure films. In every frame, it aspires to be a theme park.

That, basically, is what it amounts to—though one with fairly tepid thrills and a guaranteed certainty of short lines for its attractions. But who better to execute a Spielberg knockoff than Marshall, the director of "Arachnophobia" and "Alive"? A longtime Spielberg associate, Marshall has worked as second-unit director on many of Spielberg's most successful productions; Marshall also helped form Amblin Entertainment along with his wife, Kathleen Kennedy, and Spielberg.

Together with Allen Daviau, the cinematographer who shot "E.T."; Oscar-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, who adapted it from Michael Crichton's novel; "Lawrence of Arabia" editor Anne V. Coates; special effects wizard Stan Winston (who designed the gorillas); and the very best of George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic, Marshall labors to give his story some electricity. Even with these high-end artists on the team, though, the movie seems thin.

Part of the film's puniness is due to the fact that the story itself is merely an excuse to stage a series of close calls and last-minute escapes. Also, the names behind the camera are bigger than the ones in front. Leads Laura Linney and Dylan Walsh look as if they'd be better suited to pitching mouthwash than battling a gang of killer apes. The movie is easily stolen from these dim stars by supporting players Tim Curry and Ernie Hudson, whose respective accents are easily the film's most impressive stunts.

Perhaps the most disappointing "performance" of all, though, is given by Amy, the talking gorilla. Though there are a few nice moments with the ape—in particular, the scene in which she suavely sips a martini—for the most part, she's rather a drip. Her ability to speak is supposed to be a breakthrough, but like everything else in the film, there isn't much of a payoff. When Amy's talents are put on display for a group of prospective contributors, one of the men in the audience exclaims, "This is not `Mr. Ed'!"

Really? Could have fooled me.

Congo is rated PG-13 and contains some explicit language.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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