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Monday, January 10, 2011

FIRE ON THE AMAZON -- DVD review by porfle

At first glance, FIRE ON THE AMAZON (1993) appears to be the usual Hollywood attempt to mix issues--in this case, saving the Amazon rainforest--with thriller elements.  But this Roger Corman production soon reveals itself to be nothing more than a cheesy potboiler, and not a particularly good one at that.

Craig Sheffer plays R.J. O'Brien, who's in South America covering the murder of a rainforest crusader named Santo.  R.J. is one of those renegade American photojournalists who only care about getting the story, and not about what the story means.  But we know his neutrality won't last long when he meets cutie-pie Alyssa Rothman (Sandra Bullock), a Santo supporter who looks good in tight jeans.  When an Indian is framed for the murder and later found dead in his cell, R.J. and Alyssa enlist the help of the man's brother Ataninde (Juan Fernández) in a dangerous play against the corrupt local police. 

It's hard to believe this choppy, rinky-dink action flick was directed by Luis Llosa, whose ANACONDA and THE SPECIALIST at least had a measure of competence.  Bad editing works against the film throughout, but slapdash staging and unconvincing performances are major factors as well.  Visually, it resembles something you'd see at the drive-in during the 70s.  The script, interestingly enough, is co-written by one of my favorite actresses, Corman regular Luana Anders (EASY RIDER, DEMENTIA 13).

The environmental angle itself is given just enough lip-service to keep the plot moving while lending the film an air of respectability.  Ultimately, however, it's no more relevant than a Western about evil cattle ranchers and corrupt sheriffs versus noble sodbusters.  It does give R.J. and Alyssa an excuse to follow Ataninde deep into the jungle, where his brother's funeral allows director Llosa to film one of those weird tribal ceremonies where the white observers are given a hallucinogenic substance and trip out.

Here, right smack-dab in the middle of this guy's funeral, Sheffer and Bullock have a wildly-inappropriate softcore sex scene that's utterly ridiculous.  I'm not just talking about bare-shouldered groping and peekaboo stuff--it's the whole everything-but-the-genitalia routine, with the two tongue-wrestling leads humping away like they're in a Penthouse video.  At this point it becomes pretty clear that we're watching a standard exploitation flick that wears its loftier aspirations like a G-string. 

As R.J., Craig Sheffer is his usual Craig Sheffer self, neither very bad nor very good--his hair actually outperforms him--while Sandra Bullock gives her standard "I can't believe she's an Oscar winner" performance.  (In one scene she expresses grave concern by holding her nose.)  Judith Chapman of "The Young and The Restless" co-stars.

There's some pretty passable shoot-em-up action here and there, and an old-fashioned cliffhanger sequence with R.J. bound to a chair next to a ticking time bomb.  Most of the castmembers are held hostage at one point or another, with a gun or knife pressed menacingly against their throats.  This happens with such regularity that in one scene it appears as though Sheffer's character is holding himself hostage.  (Okay, I'm exaggerating.) 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles.  The sole extra is a hilariously cheesy trailer. 

If you take FIRE ON THE AMAZON for what it is, a lively but dumb exploitation flick, you might find it somewhat entertaining.  (Especially if you just want to see Sandra Bullock naked.)  But if you're looking for a film with something genuinely important to say about the Amazon rainforest, you're barking up the wrong tree.

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