There's a reason "Tarzan and the Lost City" was released with little or no fanfare -- and no press screenings. This silly adventure with Casper Van Dien ("Starship Troopers") as the latest Lord of the Apes comes across more like a sequel to "George of the Jungle," but without the laughs. Box office action will soon be as scarce as a map to the Lost City.

There’s a reason “Tarzan and the Lost City” was released with little or no fanfare — and no press screenings. This silly adventure with Casper Van Dien (“Starship Troopers”) as the latest Lord of the Apes comes across more like a sequel to “George of the Jungle,” but without the laughs. Box office action will soon be as scarce as a map to the Lost City.

One of the film’s producers, Stanley Canter, was actually involved in the 1984 “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.” Why anyone thought there was an audience for a sequel 14 years later remains a mystery. Nonetheless, a written prologue sketches in the details of Tarzan’s background. The story picks up in England in 1913, on the eve of his marriage to Jane (Jane March).

Instead of wedding Jane, he rushes back to the jungle because the evil explorer Nigel Ravens (Steve Waddington) is killing and burning his way to the lost city of Opar, supposedly the cradle of civilization. Jane is soon in pursuit, and the rest of this brief film has them chasing each other through the jungle. Tarzan discovers Jane is a modern woman who can shoot a gun (but is still frightened by snakes), and the lackluster story is tarted up with some special effects for the finale.

The script, credited to Bayard Johnson and J. Anderson Black, is filled with laughably bad dialogue. (“Don’t be sentimental! This is science,” barks Ravens when he learns that he has desecrated the corpse of Tarzan’s friend.)

The performances can’t rescue the material, and don’t even try. Waddington is consistent as the snarly villain with a veneer of charm, while March has to jump back and forth between Jane’s feistiness and fear. As for Van Dien, he has the physique for the role, but without anything to play against (like the campiness of “Starship Troopers”) his standout moments consist of talking to animals and swinging on vines.

The chief — indeed, only — virtue of the film is its spectacular South African locations. The moments when we get a long shot of the view, and can forget the inane story, are when the film works best. Tech credits are adequate, but transitions between scenes get a bit cutesy, with repeated use of something blocking the camera to close one scene only to move and reveal the next scene. If they felt “Tarzan” needed that much jazzing up, perhaps they shouldn’t have bothered.

Tarzan and the Lost City

(ADVENTURE)

Production

A Warner Bros. presentation. A Dieter Geissler/Alta Vista production in association with Village Roadshow Pictures-Clipsal Film Partnership. Produced by Stanley Canter, Dieter Geissler, Michael Lake. Executive producers, Greg Coote, Peter Ziegler, Kurt Silberschneider, Lawrence Mortorff. Directed by Carl Schenkel. Screenplay, Bayard Johnson, J. Anderson Black, based on the stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

With

Tarzan - Casper Van Dien Jane - Jane March Nigel Ravens - Steven Waddington Mugambi - Winston Ntshona Kaya - Rapulana Seiphemo Capt. Dooley - Ian Roberts
Camera (color, Technicolor prints), Paul Gilpin; editor, Harry Hitner; music, Christopher Franke; production designer, Herbert Pinter; art director, Emilia Roux, Anna Lennox; costume designer, Jo Katsaras Barklem; sound (Dolby), Colin McFarlane; visual effects supervisor, Julian Parry; assistant director, Graham Hickson; casting, Nicole Arbusto, Celestia Fox, Moonyeen Lee. Reviewed at the Sony Copley Place Theater, Boston, April 24, 1998. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 84 MIN.
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