Michael Crichton’s bestseller is the only ostensible star in Congo, so it’s surprising the book doesn’t receive better treatment. Dumbed down considerably, the movie is opulent and action-packed but feels like the Cliff Notes version of the novel, and doesn’t provide the thrills or suspense those who have read it will doubtless expect.
The story opens with an explorer, Charles Travis (Bruce Campbell), disappearing in the Congo region of Africa while seeking diamonds for the Texas-based conglomerate TraviCom.
Also working on the project is Travis’ ex-fiancee, Karen Ross (Laura Linney), who quickly takes off to find him. A former CIA operative, Ross commandeers a safari involving a primatologist (Dylan Walsh) seeking to return his mountain gorilla Amy – who can ‘speak’ using sign-language and a verbal translator – to the jungle. Joining them are Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry), a badly accented fortune-seeker determined to find the diamond-laden lost city of Zinj, and Monroe Kelly (Ernie Hudson), a badly accented mercenary who leads the expedition.
Having decided to proceed without big-name actors, the filmmakers clearly hoped that Amy – wide-eyed and marvelously expressive as realized by Stan Winston (Jurassic Park) – emerges as the film’s star. The ape is indeed an impressive technical achievement, but in the pell-mell rush to get through the jungle, she provides only a few scenes adorable enough to justify the trip.
The human performers are left to struggle gamely, with Linney appropriately tough and Walsh doing a creditable job playing opposite the gorilla. Curry practically gags on his accent, while Hudson provides most of the pic’s best moments.