Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle I Dreamed of Africa

By Marc Savlov

MAY 15, 2000: 

D: Hugh Hudson; with Kim Basinger, Vincent Perez, Liam Aiken, Garrett Strommen, Eva Marie Saint, Daniel Craig, Lance Reddick, Connie Chiume. (PG-13, 114 min.)

... and all I got was this lousy movie. In 1972, Italian husband and wife Paolo and Kuki Gallman uprooted themselves from the verdant Tucson hills in favor of the Kenyan highlands, purchasing a 100,000-acre ranch and moving with their young son Emanuele in tow. In the film, their reasons for doing so are never made entirely clear, though since Daktari had gone off the air only three years before, perhaps an inextinguishable love of Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion, and pal Judy the Chimp was the root cause. Chances are we'll never know, though the film's source material ­ Mrs. Gallman's memoir of the same name ­ may hold the answer. Since I haven't read it, I can't tell you either, but I doubt that Gallman's life in Kenya was as sleepy a time as this film makes it out to be. Hudson, who directed the Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire back in 1981, has had a somewhat less than stellar time of it since then. Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was his one big moneymaker, followed in slow succession by the godawful Lost Angels and the slightly better My Life So Far. His career trajectory reads like a how-not-to guide to making the grade in the film industry, though you'd never have guessed it from Chariots, which, creaky though it was, still had enough stylistic flourishes to make it watchable. I Dreamed of Africa isn't going to send scripts flooding his way, either. Once in Kenya, Kuki and Paolo find that "life moves to a different rhythm" there; accordingly, Paolo gets drunk, goes fishing with the menfolk, and throws away his watch, while Kuki frets about the rogue elephant in the garden and the lions in the veldt. Oddly, however, though much is made (via Basinger's exquisitely horrid voiceover narration) of how Africa is changing the Gallmans and not the other way around, they seem to be trapped back in Tuscany, only now there are venomous reptiles everywhere and wild boars running roughshod all over the place. (Paolo is apparently a bit of a wild boor himself: He vanishes for weeks at a time, leaving his somewhat less than plucky wife to spend her time devising impossible schemes such as mud dams, and generally making a mess of things. Midway through the film, tragedy strikes, and then again, and you get the feeling that Africa has had enough of these silly people. Kuki (pronounced with an ironic tang as "Kookie") is no Joy Adamson. When mom Eva Marie Saint visits the new homestead, the pair become bogged down while sightseeing in the Land Rover and are forced to trudge back home through the mire ruining Saint's brand new Guccis. The kicker? They were stalked by a pair of lions all the way home. We learn this after the fact though ­ no killer felines are ever shown (in that scene, at least). Tough break for the lions, I thought. Better to reconstitute the dotty pair as a few dung pellets for the pride to kick about while stalking the elusive capybara down by the old watering hole. On the plus side (what there is of it), Basinger does manage a very convincing job of playing the hysterical mom when her son is injured. Those four minutes aside, this is generally less Out of Africa than Please Get the Fuck Out of Africa, a sorry, curiously uninspired affair all the way 'round.

1 Star

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