Here's hoping your own dreams of Africa are more interesting -- and better acted -- than this movie.
Adapted from the writings of a woman who apparently always wanted to go to Africa and get in touch with nature, "I Dreamed of Africa" doesn't forget for a moment that it's a movie about Important Stuff: It's about reconnecting with your inner self, it's about ridding the world of poachers, it's about pretending that trite journal entries are meaningful, it's about the excitement of scaring an elephant away from your garden -- and it's about 90 minutes too long.
The film centers on an upper-crust American expatriate named Kuki Gallmann (Kim Basinger), a gal of privilege until a nasty auto accident lays her up for a few months and makes her seem like marriage material to a handsome Italian adventurer named Paolo (Vincent Perez).
So the two very attractive people wed, Paolo becomes best friends with Kuki's mop-headed son, Emanuele, and the family finds itself living smack dab in the middle of Africa, where Kuki starts writing stuff in her journal about never feeling more alive.
Which seems strange, because this woman seems anything but happy: Paolo goes off on extended hunting trips, never saying precisely where he's going or when he'll return. Cattle belonging to the Africans is infecting the water supply with bacteria, and Emanuele is growing up too darn fast. And her mother (Eva Marie Saint, who deserves so much better), shows up every 15 minutes or so to urge Kuki to return home, where things are civilized.
But the worst are poachers, who insist on coming onto Paolo and Kuki's land and killing their beloved big game. (Here's a question: If Paolo and Kuki hate people who kill animals, how does Paolo justify his extended hunts? Maybe it's just their animals they hate to see killed -- an odd message for a film that wears its conservationist credentials proudly.)
In fact, the only time Kuki seems to enjoy herself is when she's chasing away elephants or having sex with Paolo.
But apparently Kuki is continuing to grow. She comes to the rescue of a local tribe, gets Paolo to grudgingly admit he's a jerk and, for his own good, sends Emanuele off to boarding school, where he plays cricket.
(Here's another question: If Emanuele ages about 10 years over the course of the film -- he's played by two different actors -- why doesn't Kuki? Amazingly, after a decade in the hot African sun, she still looks like a lovingly photographed Kim Basinger.)
"I Dream of Africa" is written with all the poignancy of a sixth-grade English assignment.
The real Gallmann never wrote her journal entries with the intention of publishing them, and it shows; they're full of greeting-card sentiments that may be sincere but sound hopelessly cloying. Screenwriters Paula Milne and Susan Shilliday don't bother improving them -- much of the film's stilted dialogue sounds like it was written by the same person who wrote the journal. And the whole affair is directed lifelessly by Hugh Hudson, whose career has never risen above "Chariots of Fire," one of the most overrated films of the 1980s.
And Basinger, making her first film since winning an Oscar for "L.A. Confidential," also isn't doing audiences any favors. God bless her, she probably deserved the award; she's ceaselessly charming sitting alongside David Letterman; and you or I would have done anything to get out of appearing in "Boxing Helena," too.
But to say she doesn't appear comfortable here is an understatement. Too often, Basinger seems to recite dialogue rather than speak it, and she maintains the same grave expression throughout much of the film -- whether she's worried, mad or trying to decide.
Come to think of it, that's probably the expression you'll wear outside the theater, trying to figure how so many big-name people got together in such an exotic location and made a film so lame.
`I Dreamed of Africa'
Starring Kim Basinger, Vincent Perez and Eva Marie Saint
Directed by Hugh Hudson
Released by Columbia
Rated PG-13 (violence, one subdued sex scene)
Running time 112 minutes
Sun score *