There's been a lot of ink spilled on Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island over the last twelve years. It's very well-documented that:
A. The flick cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million, and it pulled in less than $12 million at the box office.
B. Director Renny Harlin, fresh from the success of Cliffhanger, was given carte blanche by Carolco Pictures, which he utilized to cast his girlfriend Geena Davis in the lead role, alienate a ton of potential leading men (including Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton Keanu Reeves, and Michael Douglas ... among others), and blow through gobs of money unchecked.
C. The movie's pretty darn rotten.
And yet ... for all its generic plotting, stilted dialogue, and disinterested performances, there's still something strangely watchable about Harlin's folly. It's certainly not due to the paint-by-numbers screenplay, the choppy narrative, or the memorable characters -- but there's little denying the fact that Cutthroat Island is indeed a spectacle. And I mean that in every sense of the word "spectacle," except the definition that applies to eyewear.
After running through a dozen potential leading men, none of whom wanted to play second banana to Ms. Davis' lead piratess, the very vanilla Matthew Modine was cast as the gender-reversed damsel in distress. And to say that Davis and Modine exhibit a distinct lack of chemistry would be a severe understatement. Although often quite good in other (perhaps "smaller") films, Modine and Davis are not only out of their element, but out of their minds, too. Modine does all he can to toss off a few quips and half-hearted moments of derring-do, but he sure as heck doesn't leave much of an impression as an action hero type.
And Geena Davis ... hoo boy. Lord knows what possessed this excellent actress when she opted to anchor (and I do mean "anchor") a big-budget pirate flick, but her performance ranges from adorably stilted to surprisingly wooden. She flits through the movie spouting her dialogue in listless clumps. And we're not exactly talking about sterling silver dialogue either. Davis' natural charm keeps the flick afloat, but I highly doubt she'd rank her work here among her finest performances.
The plot? It's a bunch of hooey about treasure maps and hidden islands and huge gobs of buried treasure. The plot ambles from set piece to set piece, drearily familiar when its not being bombastically wacky. To be fair, the numerous action sequences are often quite dazzling (a stuntperson does a window to carriage fall that's pretty damn amazing), as are the set design, the costumes, and the massive ships that were built (and flashily demolished) for the production.
It's pretty clear that 85% of the Cutthroat Island budget went to the "visual side" of the equation, and there just wasn't any money left for casting or script re-writes. As it is, Cutthroat Island is a passable time-waster that should please the fans of the Pirate Flick, but I've seen the movie three times now, and I'm hard-pressed to remember anything about it besides Geena Davis, two specific action scenes, and the vision of villain Frank Langella, vamping it up and chewing on every piece of scenery he can get his teeth on.
So yeah, it's kind of fun. Even if it's not very good.
Note: This DVD is the EXACT SAME item released by Live / Artisan in 1997. Lionsgate now owns the rights to the film, and so they've decided to toss a new slipcover onto the old DVD ... just in time for the theatrical release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. So if you're a fan of the flick and you're expecting some new features, now you know to just keep your old copy.
Video: Non-anamorphic "letterbox" widescreen, which is sometimes quite beautiful and sometimes a bit grainy and over-saturated. Either way, it's definitely no upgrade from the previous release (because, like I said, it's the exact same disc).
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track delivers the typically rousing adventure score and the frequent explosions in very fine form. (Also available is a French 2.0 track.) Subtitles are offered in English, French, and Spanish.
Extras: Production notes (yawn), cast & crew bios (double yawn), teaser trailer and theatrical trailer. Perhaps one day Lionsgate will opt to do a full-bore Special Edition on this flick; I bet the "behind the scenes" story is more fascinating than the movie itself.
Full steam ahead on this sloppy, choppy "guilty pleasure" pirate flick. It's loud and silly and generic and often very familiar, but it moves quickly enough, offers a bunch of impressive action scenes, and delivers a bunch of unintentional chuckles along the way.
Now someone get me a DVD of Roman Polanski's Pirates already. I haven't seen that one since opening night, 1986.