Tarzan and the Lost City
Screenplay : Bayard Johnson and J. Anderson Black
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Casper Van Dien (Tarzan), Jane March (Jane Porter), Steven Waddington (Nigel Ravens)
"Tarzan and the Lost City" is one of the most anemic movies to come out in quite a while. Not only it is poorly written, badly acted, and generally incompetent in all cinematic areas, it is thoroughly uninspired and insipid.
Unfortunately, it's not bad in the way great, colossal misfires like "Heaven's Gate" (1980) or "Ishtar" (1987) are bad. Instead, it literally drips off the screen like a movie nobody wanted to be associated with, which of course begs the question of why it was made in the first place. With all the good scripts lying around Hollywood un-produced, how does needless drek like this make its way to the big screen?
Of course, Tarzan is one of the most filmed characters in all of motion picture history -- he has appeared in over forty films, which have ranged from the very good (1984's "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes") down to the really bad (1981's "Tarzan, the Ape Man" with Bo Derek). Most of these films were just cheapie B-movies made in the thirties and forties, starring ex-Olympic athletes and a lot of cutsie chimps.
Therefore, if another Tarzan movie is to be made, one might assume that it would have something new to offer -- a different angle, an original storyline, anything to set it apart from all the others. "Greystoke" added a never-before-seen level of realism to the pulpy tale, and even "Tarzan, the Ape Man" at least had the mis-guided audacity to sexualize the story as a vehicle for Bo Derek's bare breasts.
"Tarzan and the Lost City," on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to offer but a bunch of recycled storylines and bad dialogue. The script, by Bayard Johnson and J. Anderson Black is about as formulaic and generic as they come. Comic books have better plots than this. The movie is so bad, in fact, that it retains that ridiculous Tarzan call that was so tirelessly mocked in last summer's comedy "George of the Jungle." Didn't the producers think to leave that back in the old Weissmuller pictures where it belongs?
The story starts with the legend of Tarzan already firmly established: a quick opening narration tells of Tarzan (Casper Van Dien) being found in the jungle after having been raised by apes, and his return to England where he assumes his Greystoke heritage. When the movie starts in 1913, he is a civilized English gentleman (without an English accent), and he is to marry Jane (Jane March) in less than a week.
However, when a wicked archeologist/grave-robber named Nigel Ravens (Steve Waddington) begins hunting for the fabled lost City of Opar, one of Africa's last great secrets, the witch doctor of an ancient African tribe summons Tarzan back to the jungle. At first, Jane refuses to go, pouting about how it will interfere with their wedding; but after Tarzan leaves she changes her mind and tracks him down, therefore assuring lots of lame smooch scenes between her and her ape-man.
Once the film gets going (in its own sluggish way), it delves into a series of jungle adventures, as Tarzan, Jane, and the natives attempt the thwart Ravens and his crew from discovering the city. Most of the so-called adventures are cheesy, predictable, and unexciting, with no pace, tension, or action to speak of. There are sequences stolen from innumerable recent adventure movies, ranging from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) to "The Goonies" (1985). When the movie is running short on action, it includes a few Greenpeace-friendly scenes of Tarzan freeing caged animals, releasing a baby elephant from a trap, and throwing ivory tusks into the river.
The movie is also lacking even a remote hint of reality. For instance, when Tarzan -- who was raised in the jungle -- is bit by a cobra, he doesn't even attempt to suck the venom out like any semi-experienced weekend backpacker would do. Instead, he ties a tourniquet around his arm and stumbles off into the jungle with no plan for survival.
Of course, one can't help but notice how fundamentally misleading the title is. Not to ruin the ending or anything, but there is no lost city. There is, however, a lost pyramid, which I suppose is all the resource-strapped FX department could come up with (the special effects are not worthy of a made-for-TV movie). Which also brings up the question of why the treasure hunters had to slog through numerous underground caverns to get to the lost pyramid, when it's sitting right out in the middle of an open field?
Strictly speaking, "Tarzan and the Lost City" isn't even bad enough to have camp quality, although Casper Van Dien's laughably stiff performance comes real close. This movie proves what "Starship Troopers" only hinted at: he cannot act, but he sure looks well-groomed, even in the deepest heart of the African jungle. Van Dien is much too much of a pretty-boy to be an effective Tarzan; he's a Calvin Klein model in a loin cloth. I also wondered what the make-up department was thinking when it outfitted him with that awful circa-1983 Steve Perry haircut.
Waddington makes a decent villain, although he's like a charmless version of Belloque from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." As Jane, the ex-model Jane March has little to do but smile and look pretty next to Tarzan. She does fire off a gun at the evil treasure hunters a time or two, but whenever a snake comes into the picture, she is reduced to a hysterical mess.
However, amidst all this complaining, I do have one piece of good news. "Tarzan and the Lost City" is so lacking in ideas both new and old, that it is unable to fill even an hour and a half of celluloid. So, we can say this much for it: at least it had the decency to be short.
©1998 James Kendrick