Who doesn’t love Brie Larson? (Other than Casey Affleck I mean.) She’s The Indie Girl Next Door, after all, America’s Dressed-Down Sweetheart—what’s not to love? I’ll tell you who does love Brie Larson: King Kong.
Larson plays second banana to the monster monkey in Kong: Skull Island, the Fay Wray/Jessica Lange/Naomi Watts foil to a 100-foot gorilla courtesy Industrial Light & Magic. But despite having recently won an Oscar for Room, she cannot save this 100-foot turkey. When she’s not simply staring wide-eyed off camera at something big or gross or both, she’s spouting lines of banal dialogue like (paraphrased) “I’ve filmed enough mass graves to know one when I see one.” Actually, the giant simian skeletons and stench of death tipped us off.
But Ms. Larson is not alone here. Nobody can save this film. Not John Goodman, as a shady government consultant who leads a team of explorers onto an uncharted island. Not Tom Hiddleston, as the perfectly-coiffed tracker he hires to run through the jungle (and not look back). Not even Samuel L. Jackson, whose team of vets provide the military escort. And especially not John C. Reilly, undoing a fine acting career in one fell sweep, as a whack job who’s been living on the island since WWII. This lot are an embarrassment.
The biggest problem with the film though is its direction (credited to one Jordan Vogt-Roberts). Who entrusts a $200 million movie to someone with a single independent feature to his credit? The question is rhetorical but the answer is Legendary. Vogt-Roberts is in so much of a hurry to get to the island and deliver the goods—Kong is a pretty amazing creation—that he tosses pacing and logic and character development aside and we never see them again. Kong: Skull Island is not so much edited as slapped together, scene after incoherent scene with no transitions, no continuity in tone, no rationale for being, no fact checking in sight. The military sequences are all faux Michael Bay, helicopters in slo-mo, grunts kicking back, CCR flooding the soundtrack—the film is set in 1973, just post Vietnam, so why not.
Throughout, Larson’s anti-war photographer clicks her camera, is awestruck, and smiles, awkwardly. Oh wait. She does notice that a massive water buffalo has been trapped by a fallen helicopter and tries to lift the entire smoking fuselage solo. Surprisingly, she is not strong enough. We love you Brie, but even you should have called a halt right there and questioned the senselessness of this undertaking.
Numbskull Island, anyone?
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth