From a marketing standpoint Congo (1995) promised to be a hit. Congo was based upon a novel by Michael Crichton and could ride the wave of credibility generated by Jurassic Park (1993). Congo added to that a little bit of Gorillas In The Mist (1988) and King Solomon’s Mines (1985) just for good measure. When it did come out it did about twice as well as Paramount pictures had hoped, even if the film was panned by every major critic. I remember that for years after the film came out there were still Congo action figures littering the bargain bins at KB Toys.
The first mistake was introducing Bruce Campbell and Taylor Nichols in the first reel and killing them off immediately. You just don’t do something like that. Seriously though the issues with Congo are abundant. Most of which stem from John Patrick Shanley’s screenplay. Caught between delivering an economical, action packed script and creating a suitable thriller for children Shanley really couldn’t address post-colonial African issues or even basic characterization. In a way Bruce Campbell and Taylor Nichols get just as much development as any of the other characters. The plot to Congo is too complex for kids while the content itself is too unsophisticated.
Directed by prolific producer Frank Marshall, Congo benefits from none of the artistry or stylization apparent in something like Jurassic Park. Veteran character actors Tim Curry and Delroy Lindo summon more thrills and suspense in their relatively minor performances than any of Marshall’s set pieces. This makes Congo, aesthetically speaking, more authentically a B-movie or vintage movie serial than any of the Lucas/Spielberg blockbusters of the eighties.
Congo is the kind of train wreck of a movie that is wholly unique to its moment in time. Only in 1995 would Laura Linney set out in search of Bruce Campbell and end up blowing mutant apes apart with a giant laser. There’s something to appreciate about those kinds of movies; those “you had to have been there” blockbusters.