A year after the successful and enjoyable Jurassic Park, another Michael Crichton novel was turned into a film. Congo follows a primatologist who has trained a gorilla named Amy to sign and has equipped a robotic rig that can interpret the signing to a computer-generated voice. When he and his colleges find that strange paintings Amy has been repeating over and over maybe a clue to a lost city, they are led by an eccentric investor played by Tim Curry to the depths of the Congo in search of fortune. Laura Linney tags along as a research scientist searching for her lost partner, who went to the lost city to find diamonds to use with powerful lasers (Dr. Evil approves).
Congo’s error is its use of costumes and some animatronics for the gorillas. CGI was on the rise in 1995 but the tech was not quite there yet as fur was just too advanced for the systems of the day. Therefore, it was decided to use gorilla suits and robots instead of computer-animated models (as was the original intention). The result is a silly display that is so unintentionally hilarious that even the small gorilla Amy (a combination costume with animatronics) won her own Best Supporting Actress Razzie.
General consensus states that Congo is one of the top contenders for the worst film of the 90’s. While most of the performances are terrible and the gorillas are a joke, the premise is workable, founded in some fact (There really was a signing gorilla that came out about the time the novel was written). Actually, the one performance that bothered me the most was that of Dylan Walsh (who is now well-known for playing the lead on FX’s Nip/Tuck), who is actually like a less-talented Steven Gutenberg. Now let that sentence sink in for a minute.
Bad monster movies are a dime a dozen, and this mix of creature feature and adventure film follows the same cliches as all of its predecessors. Ernie Hudson (who actually gives the only redeemable performance in the entire film) plays a character so cliched re-watching this one actually gave me Ghost in the Darkness flashbacks, still I did like his character far more than any other in the movie. The talented Laura Linney (a far cry from the spectacular John Adams here) is wasted, and the expectantly strange performance by Tim Curry is just derivative. In fact, this movie would be just another empty popcorn flick if it weren’t for the bad effects and exceptionally weak screenplay from John Patrick Shanley (who would go on to right the wonderful 2008 film Doubt) that sink it like a stone.