Want to see the very definition of a bungle in the jungle? Then blow the dust off the stupendously stupid and ridiculously enjoyable Congo, the 1995 movie version of novelist Michael Crichton’s potboiler, in which a gorilla talks, paints, smokes a cigar and downs a martini while fellow actors make utter ass monkeys of themselves.
From a truly goofy, take-the-money-and-run screenplay by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck; Doubt), this Africa-set misfire has something to do with a planeload of cardboard characters heading to the Congo for assorted daffy reasons including a quest for the legendary diamond mines of the Lost City of Zinj. The ship of fools includes a primatologist (zombified Dylan Walsh) aching to return a chatty, humanized ape to her homeland; a shady Romanian businessman (Tim Curry, in full-on camp mode adopting a bizarre Peter Lorre-esque accent) who is convinced that imagery in the talking ape’s paintings will lead to the fabled diamond mines; and a chilly former CIA goon and PhD turned communications monopoly goon (Laura Linney, duller and whiter than even Laura Dern in Jurassic Park) who brings along handguns, machine guns, laser guns, stacks of cash, satellite transmitters and, just for laughs, a hot-air balloon.
Walsh and Linney get off on bad footing when Linney insists on horning-in on his trip to Africa. “Name your price,” she says, to which Walsh volleys back, “I don’t have a price! I’m not a pound of sugar, I’m a primatologist.” Don’t worry, though, not long after during a full moon, she and Walsh are trading quips prompting Walsh to make ape sounds to woo her. Jeez, Hugh Grant and Robin Wright reportedly turned down these roles? Fools.
Linney, asked why she is trekking to Africa, says with a straight face, “To find … something I lost.” What she’s really going for is to look for dead explorers (one of them being Bruce Campbell, whom she calls, “My fiancé … my former fiancé!”) and while she’s at it, to check out that diamond mine coveted by her money-mad boss (Joe Don Baker, in mad-dog, vein-popping mode). On the ground, the cast meets their guide Ernie Hudson, livening things up with an hilarious, spoofy upper-crust Errol Flynn Brit accent to spout witticisms like, “I’m your Great White Hunter – though I happen to be black.” Then, there’s tribal military revolutionary leader Delroy Lindo, who commands the temporarily detained Linney, Curry and Hudson to enjoy some hotel coffee and cake (“Have some!” he bellows), before he suddenly screams at Currey, “Stop eating my sesame cake!”
The movie gets even daffier, if possible, when the team members brave poisonous snakes, an attack on their boat by angry hippos and other plot developments straight out of the Disneyland Jungle Cruise to finally uncover the lost city – which must have been located in deepest, darkest Paramount studios, it looks so Styrofoam-y. The ruined temple is guarded by a rare tribe of highly intelligent savage killer apes (well, poor, unsung heroes in costumes, anyway), who arouse cheers when they merrily decimate non-essential cast members (like perpetually whining primatologist Grant Heslov, who’s now a first-class writer and producer) while Walsh yelps, “Oh, no! The bad apes have the crystal lasers!” A hilarious volcanic eruption worthy of a ‘60s Irwin Allen disaster adventure movie is just icing on the cake after some of the worst acting, most laughable dialogue and silliest special effects ever committed to celluloid. If you’re up for seeing some talented people sent up river, put Congo on your movie itinerary, pronto.