A pirate master searches for treasure.
Directed by Renny Harlin
Starring Geena Davis, Matthew Modine, and Frank Langella
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
This small detail is indicative of a complete obliviousness to how the characters are coming off. The film wants me to think that Chris Masterson’s young pirate overcoming his fear to stab a guy in the butt is heroic, but all he did was stab someone when they weren’t looking. No other way to show a reasonable tertiary arc than that? Is pulling a musket ball out of a person a deeply romantic act, or a functional one that might endear the remover to the removee somewhere down the road? Harlin thinks it’s the former, which makes me worry for any medical staff who might operate on him. Exactly how funny is it when our protagonists charge through a funeral procession and knock the dessicated corpse onto the ground, where it spills out of the coffin and falls to pieces? What’s most funny about this scene is that anyone thought it would be. Davis’s shockingly stilted performance and the absence of any charisma from the rest of the cast is completing the dilemma. Even the monkey is a pain. I’ve never rooted for a dead primate more than when Morgan tentatively opens its hiding place after a mutiny.
So Harlin’s not great with actors. It’s fine that directors might be better on the technical side, except that Cutthroat Island also has out of focus shots and forgets to cut out bloopers. Poor Matthew Modine looked like he at least got dazed by that stray barrel bonking him on the head at 42:50. Awful green screen work complements something so perfunctory as a carriage ride, and if it’s bad when the stakes are so low, it’s not improving when it’s needed. The action is unimaginative, substituting explosions for creativity, but then, why should there be imagination in the choreography when there’s none in the whole film. Case in point: Morgan needlessly tells her crew late in the film to hoist her colors. There could be anything on that flag, but it’s just a standard skull and crossbones. Cutthroat Island is always lazy and never surprising.
The best thing that can be said about this is that it closes in on good-bad territory. There are spiteful laughs to be had here, though at about 40 minutes too long, they’re more spread out than they need to be for bad-movie rewatchability. Cutthroat Island deserves its reputation as one of the worst films of the 90’s. It’s a shame Geena Davis, often great, pretty much exhausted her credibility here, but Harlin gets to go on and direct middling schlock like Deep Blue Sea. Frank Langella being insane, a single scene of characters being clever, and the extensive set design save this from an F, but just barely. I have a feeling that the sequel heavily hinted at in the closing speech is never going to happen. D-