I Dreamed Of Africa Movie Review

Almost entirely scenery and labored melodrama, "I Dreamed of Africa" is a terribly earnest effort at making a weepy women's Event Picture from the memoirs of a American socialite roughing it on a ranch in Kenya.

Kim Basinger, in her first screen effort since winning the Oscar for "L.A. Confidential," take the lead as Kuki Gallmann, a real-life divorcee who moved to a derelict 100,000-acre ranch on the East African plains with her young son and her intrepid new husband in the early 1980s.

Tinged with tragedy and adventure, but very little depth, the film plays like entries being read at random from Gallmann's diary. It has a decade's worth of incidents it wants to touch on, but doesn't have a clue how to segue between them. The script has no organic flow whatsoever, racing roughshod over years at once (her son goes from 7 to 14 to 17 in two scenes) and leaving little time for character development.

Directed by Hugh Hudson ("Chariots of Fire"), "Africa" definitely has an old-fashioned feel to it -- like an assembly-line Disney family adventure movie from the 1960s -- but it seems to extract the worst elements of yesteryear cinema.

Overly poetic narration attempts to make up for the shallowness. The picture seems to exploit Kuki's femininity with alone-without-a-man-in-the-house scenes, like when she fends off a lion by her little ol' self, learns to drive a tractor or negotiates grazing rights with the natives. The way these episodes are presented, I half expected to see her carrying a parasol.

All this comes about because her adoring husband (Vincent Perez -- a very versatile actor and the film's best asset) thrives on danger and adventure, so he's constantly taking off on hunting trips with their sweaty, manly, rustic ranch hands.

The film has a maudlin score full of twinkling strings and majestically crashing cymbals that accompanies its stock helicopter footage of various herds of animals (Giraffes! Elephants! Zebras! Flamingos!) thundering across the veldt. It has snake bites, poachers and noble tribesmen. It has Mother Nature exacting her storm-driven price on the white settlers' homestead. But it doesn't slow down long enough for any of these things to have much of an impact.

It also has funerals. Whose I won't say, but the only time it lingers on a moment is while Kuki reads lengthy, lyrical eulogies and dabs at her eyes. It lingers forever on those.

With a love for the land mixed with a determined, this-place-isn't-going-to-beat-me look on her face, Basinger tries very, very hard to bring dignity to this dime-store Meryl Streep role of a Western woman in an untamed world. But she's paddling upstream against a deluge of banal and sometimes badly staged filmmaking, extremely stale dialogue and predictable hardships in a picturesque paradise that constantly upstages the story.


I Dreamed Of Africa Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: PG-13, Opened: Friday, May 5, 2000


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