December 22, 1995 in Seven

Pirate Flick Bad Enough To Shiver Your Timbers

Steven Rea Philadelphia Inquirer
 

Hoist the mainsails and batten the hatches, because after months of sitting on a studio shelf, “CutThroat Island” has finally splashed ashore. This big-budget buccaneer extravaganza - set in the treacherous Caribbean waters of the 17th century - stars Geena Davis as saucy swashbuckler Morgan Adams, “the notorious lady pyrate,” in a leaky, creaky homage to Hollywood’s skull-and-crossbones canon of yore.

Directed by Renny Harlin, whose curriculum vitae includes “Cliffhanger,” “Die Hard 2: Die Harder,” and being the real-life Mr. Geena Davis, “CutThroat Island” is an enjoyably awful piece of work in which the gangly actress proves herself thoroughly ill-suited to the role of a distaff Errol Flynn. A decidedly contemporary performer who has charmed audiences with her beguiling mix of klutziness and sexiness, the tall and dimply Davis makes an awkward brigand of the high seas. It’s not that she doesn’t throw herself into the part, galloping on horseback, clanking her cutlass and tossing barnacled baddies from barroom banisters - it’s just that she’s so gawky in the act of doing it. Wearing lace-up boots, ruffly blouses and a look of worried determination, Davis dutifully delivers her ersatz piratese (“I will maroon you on a rock … instead of splitting you with my bulkhead as you deserve!”) with the grace of a high schooler doing Shakespeare.

Matthew Modine gets the Olivia de Havilland role here, playing a cad and a bounder who joins with Morgan in a quest for buried Spanish treasure - and who must be rescued from the brink of death on several occasions by the fearless female pirate. Frank Langella is the nemesis named Dawg, Morgan’s bloodthirsty uncle, while the rest of the cast is made up of little-known character actors wearing beards, eye-patches and tattoos.

Harlin does orchestrate some nifty action sequences. There is a bracing harborside coach chase, with Davis (not a stunt double) crashing through a second-story window and landing on a horse. And there is the climactic sea battle, in which Morgan’s vessel, the Morning Star, and Dawg’s ship, the Reaper, go at it broadside, complete with exploding cannons, swinging ropes and hordes of sword-wielding extras. If you look closely in the fray, you will see a pirate standing on the foredeck playing a rousing fiddle, while his shipmates are being run through with blades and bayonets. The film also boasts a pet monkey, which Morgan puckishly names King Charles.

Aye, matey, there are pleasures to be found in “CutThroat Island,” but they are exclusively of the guilty kind.

xxxx “CutThroat Island” Location: East Sprague, North Division and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Renny Harlin; starring Geena Davis and Matthew Modine Running time: 2:03 Rating: PG-13

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