Bloody fun on the high seas Movie review: "Cutthroat Island" has stunts and effects galore. And Geena Davis is a convincing Errol Flynn.


Because of a production error, the number of stars Sun Film Critic Stephen Hunter awarded to "Cutthroat Island," starring Geena Davis, was misrepresented in yesterday's Today section. The correct evaluation is 2 1/2 stars.

* The Sun regrets the error.

For sheer idiot bliss, no better vehicle can be found than "Cutthroat Island." It hasn't a brain in its pretty head, but it offers some of the best stunt and pyrotechnic work of the season, plus it features a lot of big ships, some of which blow up. You want more? Rent "Captain Blood"!

The twist that makes such a movie makeable in today's anti-swashbuckling climate is that in this case the Errol Flynn role goes to Geena Davis. Olivia De Havilland is played by Matthew Modine. Welcome to the '90s.

As pirate captain Morgan Adams in the scungy Caribbean of the 17th century, in search of a map of lost treasure -- one portion of it is tattooed onto her late father's scalp, which she carries with her -- Davis cuts a fine figure. She wields a mean cutlass, can swing like a monkey from ship to ship with the best of them, and, as an added bonus, when she smiles she's still got all her teeth. She still seems like a nice Kappa Kappa Gamma from Northwestern rather than either a pirate or a movie star, but as I say, lots of neat things blow up. And it's her willingness to risk life and limb that endears her to an audience.

Renny Harlin, both the director and her husband, will never be confused with Kubrick or Scorsese, but at this sort of thing he's about the best in the world, what with "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger" already in his trick bag. He may be less a director than a demolitions expert and traffic control technician. Thus, plot or not, and even lacking as it does both sense and sensibility, the movie is a feast of guilty pleasures.

The best of these follows as Davis and tag-along Modine escape by carriage from all the king's horsemen while they are bombarded by naval gunfire. This is pretty standard stuff -- horses, explosions, flying wreckage, ho hum. But there's an extraordinary moment where Davis, who's been peeled off the coach by a low-hanging balcony, rejoins it by tumbling through a full somersault and landing neatly in the driver's seat, where she takes up the reins again without pausing for breath. This is a no hum deal because as we can clearly see, that's the actual millionaire movie star Geena Davis actually doing a somersault onto a moving carriage!

Later, that's actually her hanging 300 feet over the blue Caribbean with sad little Modine hanging to her skirts, screaming, "Big girl, don't drop me, PWEEEASSSE!" There may be some element of sadism that adds spice to the Davis-Harlin marriage; whatever, it certainly adds spice to the film.

No performance can be said to tower above any of the others, and although the production values are high, the film still looks as if it took place in the Disney World "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. At least no one says, "Shiver me timbers," although someone does say, "Walk the plank, you yellow dog!"


Starring Geena Davis and Matthew Modine

Directed by Renny Harlin

Rated PG-13 (violence, sexual situations)

Sun score: *** 1/2

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