It's been more than a decade since King Kong took his big fall off New York's World Trade Center. But in sequel-crazed Hollywood, movie heroes never die--especially not the tallest, darkest and most brutishly handsome leading man of all. However, the challenge of "King Kong Lives" (citywide) isn't just bringing the Big Fella back from the dead. Kong is one of the hulking marvels of our movie childhood, an old-fashioned monster, touchingly human in spirit with a look of dreamy, sorrowful innocence in his eyes.
This sequel, directed by John Guillermin (who was also at the helm of the 1976 version) is in good hands as long as Kong is on screen. (Designer Carlo Rambaldi has done a masterful job of sculpting his mighty ape's features, giving him heft, surprising agility and, perhaps to age him a bit, a receding hairline.) But the film makers haven't been able to improve on the original story. It's still Kong vs. Civilization, with a lot of high-firepower action and wackily implausible plot twists thrown in to keep the Big Guy busy.
The movie opens with Kong on a life-support system, needing a blood transfusion so he can receive a new heart. Just as his doctor, Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton), is about to lose hope, she gets word from a jungle adventurer, Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin), that he's found a match. His discovery isn't just any ape, but a woman--Queen Kong, who cuts quite a figure: She's the only heroine we've seen this year whose measurements are 3500-2400-3600.
Taken into captivity, she provides blood for a successful transplant. But before the scientists can lug her safely out of reach, Kong awakens with a roar and carries his new sweetheart off into the wilderness. It's hard for two 50-foot apes to carry on a courtship in private, especially when their idea of a good time is overturning buildings and uprooting a small forest. Before long, the U.S. Army storms into action, led by a cranky, cigar-chomping Colonel (John Ashton) who'd just as soon destroy the apes as save them.
Unfortunately, this predictable story line turns most of the movie into an extended series of chase scenes. The only real suspense is which ape will survive (though the scenarists do manage to dream up a sentimental twist at the finale). Guillermin is an able craftsman, with an easy-going, informal style, and he does an expert job of blending suspense, sly humor and romance. In fact, the film's high point is the way it weaves together the two budding romances, cutting between the two apes and their human counterparts--Dr. Franklin and Mitchell--as they mend their wounds and snuggle in each other's arms.
Kong's gigantic stature (yes kids, he's even bigger than Arnold Schwartzenegger) is put to good comic use, especially when he is fitted with a new heart the size of an Apollo space capsule. And Hamilton is particularly appealing as a strong-willed, independent woman. But Kong's military tormentors are strictly inept, one-dimensional villains (which is perhaps why the U.S. Army refused to participate in the film).
'KING KONG LIVES' A De Laurentiis Entertainment Group presentation. Producer Martha Schumacher. Director John Guillermin. Writers Ronald Shusett & Steven Pressfield. Camera Alec Mills. Editor Malcolm Cooke. Music John Scott. Production Design Peter Murton. Creatures Creation & Construction Carlo Rambaldi. With Brian Kerwin, Linda Hamilton, John Ashton, Peter Michael Goetz, Frank Maraden, Peter Elliot and George Yiasomi.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG-13. (Parents are strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.)