Friday, December 21, 2012

Capsule Film Reviews: Cutthroat Island

Cutthroat Island (1995, Studio Canal/Carolco/MGM/Lionsgate DVD) is a Hollywood tale of family squabbles, greed, and revenge as niece (Geena Davis) and uncle (Frank Langella) and their pirate crews fight each other across the Caribbean in order to obtain three maps which will show them way to a hidden pirates pot of gold and jewels on the unknown Cutthroat Island.

Cutthroat Island was Hollywood's latest attempt, in the 1990s, to revive and re imagine the pirate genre by adding a bit of humour to the action adventure mix that dominates contemporary Hollywood and is a favourite of its juvenile demographic. What the film really was, however, was an excuse for director Rennie Harlan and his crew to blow lots of stuff up and play with a lot of toys. And blow lots of stuff up and play with a lot of toys they do. The films sexual repartee was apparently what passed for wit in 199s Hollywood but is no match for the real wit of pirate films of the more distant past like Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz, WB, 1935 and the Sea Hawk (Michael Curtiz, WB, 1940). The film's attempt at a kick ass third wave show us some cleavage female hero in the form of Morgan Adams (Geena Davis) was apparently what passed for feminism in the Hollywood of the 1990s. It was not feminist and it certainly didn't atone for Hollywood's sins of commission and commission of the past.

What there is in Cutthroat Island is exactly what one would expect of a Hollywood pirate film. There's elite British military fops, a peg leg, a lost buried treasure, a treasure map, a monkey, some alien like grotesque eel like creatures, betrayals, blue seas, a storm, a ship tossed at sea, an unmapped jungle island, a secret cave, skulls and bones, a pitched sea battle, and, of course, romance as our kick ass Morgan finds true love with flim flam man William Shaw (Matthew Modine) in this paint by the genre numbers Hollywood film. What a waste of a reported $99 million dollars.

In a way, I suppose it could be argued that, Cutthroat Island and Roman Polanski's earlier 1986 Pirates may have been the wrong films at the wrong time. Cutthroat only took in a "paltry", paltry by Hollywood standards that is, $19 million dollars at the box office. Pirates, which cost $40 million, took in only a paltry $8 million. It is these numbers which rule Hollywood today. A similar pirate action adventure/humour/romance mix with a little Disney supernaturalism, Johnny Depp doing his best Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty (Lewis Milestone, MGM, 1962) impression, and, in all but the fourth, the queen of the contemporary costume movie, Keira Knightly, thrown in, would prove more popular at the box office when Jerry Bruckheimer brought his four Pirates of the Caribbean films to the big wide screen in 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2011. Viewers apparently couldn't resist the Pirates franchise and that is why, I guess they keep pumping them out. Another one is apparently on the way as I write. I, on the other hand--I am too old for this juvenalia--did, do,and will resist any Pirates of the Caribbean film, past, present, or future. And I certainly resisted finding Cutthroat Island anything more than yet another mediocre Hollywood big budget extravaganza aimed at the kiddies and the kiddie within. Cutthroat Island, then, is a film I cannot recommend.

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