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Cutthroat Island

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Cutthroat Island

Starring: Geena Davis, Matthew Modine
Director: Renny Harlin
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: December 1995
Genre: Action

*Also starring: George Murcell, Frank Langella, Maury Chaykin, Saul Rubinek, Patrick Malahide, Stan Shaw, Rex Linn, Paul Dillon, Chris Masterson

Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

From the director of THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE, Renny Harlin, we have CUTTHROAT ISLAND. It was one of last year's big budget films costing almost $100 million dollars to make. Unless it becomes a big hit in the video stores, it is destined to be a megaflop. You can pay three bucks now and see it on pay-per-view.

Unlike other expensive films where most of the money goes to the superstars, here the money appears to be spent on the production. Renny Harlin comes from the Cecil B. DeMille school of movie making. The only difference is he does not have DeMille's talent. What Renny does know how to do is create explosion after explosion. His motto is: when the pace is in danger of slowing a bit, blow up something. This technique can work in a movie with more of a plot, as this year's EXECUTIVE DECISION, but here it only serves to let people test out their new subwoofers. To Renny's credit, he probably made a significant dent in the unemployment rate since there are thousands upon thousands of extras.

The plot is that in the 1600s "notorious lady pirate" Morgan Adams's (Gina Davis) father dies. She gets the crew of his ship to elect her captain over her rival. The election is ultimately decided by a single person, but it does provide an early example of democracy in action.

She tells the crew that she has a map to buried treasure, but there are two problems. First she has only a third of the map. To get one of the other parts they will have to fight the evil Dawg (Frank Langella) and his ship of rival pirates. The other problem is the map is in Latin, which none of them can read. They solve this problem by buying a doctor, William Shaw (Matthew Modine), who has been put in prison for stealing and turned into a slave.

The show pays only lip service to the idea of a plot. This is a pure swashbuckling action picture. Here Davis attempts to be a female Douglas Fairbanks. She kills people left and right, and she gets in numerous knockdown fistfights where she always wins. Davis has tremendous fun playing a pirate - wouldn't we all? Too bad the director did not worry more about whether the audience was having fun. About 10 minutes of this is somewhat interesting, but then it is pure repetition.

The script by Michael Frost Beckner, Bruce Evans, and Raynold Gideon has nothing of value to say. It wastes little time with character development or plot, best to get the actors to the next fight as quickly as possible. A typical line is Shaw's, "Congratulations Madam. Another town you've destroyed."

The cinematography (Peter Levy) is full of bright lights and strong colors. The music (John Debney) is alive and pulsates with a heavy beat right along with the sounds of the cannons and the guns. The sets (Norman Garwood) are enormous, and the costumes (Enrico Sabbatini) elaborate. No expense is spared. I have a friend who looks for plotless action films for watching while working out on his NorticTrac, this is perfect for that. If your TV has a knob that turns off the dialog, feel free to do so without worrying about losing out on any content.

Finally, in Renny Harlin's defense, he has made a single good film. His DIE HARD 2 is spectacular, and it has a strong narrative drive. I guess once you come up with one winner, the studios open their bank accounts to you forever.

CUTTHROAT ISLAND runs an unnecessarily long 2:03. It is rated PG-13 which is probably right given the violence level. There is a lot of violence, but it is pretty cartoonish. CUTTHROAT ISLAND would be fine for kids say 8 or 9 and up. I was bored silly by it, but it does possess an impressive sound and look. I would advise catching one of those short cable films that talks about the making of the movie instead and skip the show itself. The excerpts suffice. I give the picture a thumbs down and rate it * 1/2.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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