It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Congo" is a splendid example of a genre no longer much in fashion, the jungle adventure story. Perhaps aware that its material was already dated when Stewart Granger made "King Solomon's Mines" in 1950, the filmmakers have cheerfully turned it into an action comedy, and the actors have gone a step further, treating it like one of those movies like "Beat the Devil" that is a put-on of itself. The result is not a movie that is very good, exactly, but it's entertaining and funny. False sophisticates will scorn it. Real sophisticates will relish it.
The movie begins with a ludicrous set-up featuring Joe Don Baker, chewing the scenery (and I believe even the foundations of the sound stage) as a megalomaniac tycoon who needs a rare African diamond to build a laser system that will "dominate the communications industry!" His son Charlie seems to have discovered the diamond lode before his satellite transmission is knocked off the air by what look like killer gorillas.
Baker persuades an assistant, Karen (Laura Linney), to go into the jungle to find out what happened to Charlie, and to bring back the diamonds. The diamonds seem more important than his son. She accused him of not being human. "I'll be human later!" he barks.
For very complicated reasons, Karen merges her mission with an expedition being mounted by a "primologist" (Dylan Walsh), who has taught an ape to communicate by using American Sign Language to activate a speech synthesizer. Also along for the ride is a shadowy, sinister figure named Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry), who introduces himself as a "Rumanian philanthropist," but has in fact staged a lifelong quest for the jewels of the lost city of Zinge. He has the Peter Lorre role.