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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 09, 1995


Frank Marshall
Dylan Walsh;
Laura Linney;
Tim Curry;
Ernie Hudson;
Joe Don Baker;
Grant Heslov
some violence, much of it offscreen or too briefly on screen to be too disturbing. Also contains close-ups of Tim Curry's teeth that could scare small children

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Some early warning signs that "Congo," based on the Michael Crichton bestseller, could be the "Ishtar" of the summer:

* The kitschy, Africanesque music at the beginning, as the movie opens on beasts traversing the wild, dark continent. At first, you think you've stumbled into a Disney special on the making of "The Lion King."

* The acutely un-stellar casting. With an ensemble consisting of Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Tim Curry, Ernie Hudson, Joe Don Baker and Grant Heslov, boy, will the lion sleep tonight.

* The director, Frank Marshall. This is the man who made "Alive," the uplifting story of a group of rugby players who ate each other when their plane went down in the Andes.

In other words, "Jurassic Park" it ain't.

A Houston-based communications company called TraviCom has sent an eight-person detail to Central Africa's Virunga Volcano Range in search of flawless diamonds. They're obviously chow in the making. Back in the States, TraviCom head Baker and associate Linney discover by satellite that their former employees have been attacked by hairy assailants who look like silvery gorillas coiffed by Billy Idol's hairdresser.

Meanwhile, California primatologist Walsh is making tremendous communication progress with a young ape called Amy. With the aid of an electronic-voicing device, she can even talk with her teacher. "Tickle me, tickle me," she says. (Chatting with Amy would be far easier if Walsh zipped open her monkey suit and talked to the human actor inside.)

Linney, who packs a mean arsenal of technical gadgetry, goes after the diamonds and any possible survivors. Walsh realizes that Amy, who comes from the same region in Virunga where the TraviCom party was massacred, is homesick. Curry, who hams it up as an unscrupulous Romanian called Herkermer Homolka, wants to travel to the Congo to locate the lost city of Zinj, where King Solomon's diamonds are reportedly stored. Naturally, the three run into one another and charter a plane to Africa.

Joining up with Hudson, who plays amusingly against type as a Ronald Coleman-style adventurer, the travelers take a long-winded journey to the Heart of Dullness. On the way to those perfect stones and vicious apes, they weather a war that just broke out; in flight, they evade a battery of ground-to-air missiles; and by river, they survive a nighttime assault of, uh, killer hippos.

As if aware that "Congo" is the least interesting adventure ever filmed, screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (who once wrote a funny movie called "Moonstruck") tries to inoculate the activities with humor. He seems self-defeatingly hellbent on making light of his script's own lightweightedness.

Meanwhile, the audience twiddles its thumbs waiting for the big finale, an ultimately disappointing affair of earth-shaking soundstages and special-effects molten lava (as the big volcano gets into the act) and mad-as-hell killer apes. It's then that the beasts get on with the task they should have performed much earlier—getting rid of that cast, one by one.

CONGO (PG-13) — Contains some violence, much of it offscreen or too briefly on screen to be too disturbing. Also contains close-ups of Tim Curry's teeth that could scare small children.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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