Perhaps, after Disclosure, Jurassic Park, and Rising Sun, this was one Michael Crichton project too many. Maybe screenwriter John Patrick Shanley was temporarily at a loss for words. It's possible that special-effects pro Stan Winston was sick of making eyeballs for creatures in Jurassic Park, Aliens, and Terminator 2, or that director Frank Marshall thought he was still in the realm of Gremlins, Joe Versus the Volcano, and all those Indiana Jones movies he once produced. All I know is that something has gone terribly, drum-beatingly wrong in Congo, and you can sense Jungle Trouble brewing from the git-go: This $60 million production looks more like a crude 1950s sci-fi movie than one of the author's usual opulently conceived tech-heavy thrillers. It's a Mystery Science Theater 3000 special event.
Crichton's 15-year-old novel is about a gorilla called Amy who has been taught American Sign Language by her devoted boyfriend I mean, by her primatologist guardian, Peter (Dylan Walsh from Nobody's Fool) and who via computer can convert those signs into vocal speech that makes her sound sort of like Astro Boy; Amy's been having nasty nightmares, so Peter is taking her home to her Congo condo. It's also about diamonds hidden in the Lost City of Zinj (somewhere south of Oz?) that are of particular interest to the muckety-mucks of TraviCom, a greedy multinational corporation; to a Romanian oddball explorer played (over the top the only dramatic altitude he knows these days) by Tim Curry; and to Karen, a TraviCom employee (Tales of the City's Laura Linney) whose former fiancé disappeared on an earlier expedition.
So into the Congo they all go, led by Monroe (Ernie Hudson, trying a fluty, I-love-smoking-jackets accent that would do Jon Lovitz proud). ''I'm your great white hunter for this trip!'' he intones to his suitably speechless charges who, nevertheless, carry enough zippy-zappy-laser-happy communication devices and weaponry to overthrow a small government. I won't spoil your thrills by telling you what spooky-wooky horrors lie their way. I'll just say that the kids are in volcano country, and when the joint erupts, the molten lava flows like rivers of...pizza sauce. Who knew the heart of darkness contained such cheese? D-