Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:54 - Released 5/5/00

I can't help but think of I Dreamed Of Africa as a low-rent remake of Out Of Africa, which, itself, was not a terribly noteworthy film, but which at least had a leading actress who could handle the part. While Meryl Streep and beautiful scenery were the two saving graces of that film, this one just has the scenery. I understand that it's a true story (in fact, it's based on the book by the main character, Kuki Gallmann), and the story is adventurous and epic in nature, but the screenplay, by Paula Milne and Susan Shilliday, is disjointed and choppy, a series of five-minute episodes that travel, businesslike, from one hardship to another. The direction by Hugh Hudson does nothing to counteract this; on the contrary, it emphasizes it, serving up the storyline in small vignettes, never taking time to develop character or relationship beyond what is needed to set up the the next scene. As if this weren't enough, the leading performance by Kim Bassinger is so stilted and conspicuously unbelievable it's almost difficult to watch. She delivers her lines like she can't wait to be rid of them, barely registering any real emotion or character, just pat mannerisms and trite, methodic expression.

After an auto accident that is included apparently for the sole reason of establishing her as a tragic heroine, Kuki (Bassinger) and her husband Paolo (Vincent Pérez), decide to leave their home in Venice and move to his ranch in Africa. Packing up her young son Emanuele, nicknamed "Emma" (Liam Aiken), she moves her life to Kenya and quickly learns that "life has a different rhythm" there. At least, she is told this by numerous people, as if they all agreed to utter this pretentious phrase to her when she arrived. After we consult our watches and discover that it's already been a half hour and nothing's happened, some minor conflicts do arrive. They have car trouble. They have wind trouble. They have snake trouble, lion trouble, and mother-in-law trouble. Most of all, they have marital trouble because Paolo insists on leaving for weeks at a time with his friends to go hunting. And all these troubles are presented separately and sequentially, like episodes on a TV show. Eventually Emma grows into a teenager and is played by Garrett Strommen, and he has his own troubles. And ever throughout the story is Basinger's irritating voice-over narration, explaining things to us that a better film (and a better actress) would be able to show without words. I won't give away the ending, but the final half hour contains two emotional events so similar as to be redundant, as if we need more tragedy than the first such scene can provide.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the scenery is what saves this film. The fact that it was shot on location in Kenya and South Africa doesn't hurt, and the cinematography by Bernard Lutic is breathtaking, featuring spectacular panoramas with herds of every kind of wild animal you can think of roaming about. Maurice Jarre's original music should be mentioned, too; it is more emotionally provocative than anything else in the picture, and is nicely complemented by African folk songs sung by native tribal groups.

A production like this deserves better scriptwriters and a better leading player. What a shame Gallmann's truly adventurous story must fall into the clumsy hands of such inept storytellers. **½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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