“I Dreamed of Africa” is a fabulous movie if you are a woman over 40 who likes to use the word “empowered” a lot, if you are a woman in her 20’s or 30’s who lives in the Midwest and doesn’t get out much, or if you are an aspiring woman between the ages of 8 and 14 who likes to see matinees with mom on the weekend and hold hands on the way to the theater. I mean, it really is a fine movie for any of these types–and possibly the kind of man who gets called “Hank the Henpecked” behind his back by coworkers–yet alas, I am none of these types. I found “I Dreamed of Africa” to be shockingly boring and stupifyingly umoving, but that’s me, and who cares about me when the ladies get the kind of competently capable chick flick they like?
Kim Basinger stars in this latest example of Hollywood’s obsession with if-it-really-happened-it-will-make-a-good-movie-damn-it. Based on the life of a woman who really was named Kuki Gallmann, “I Dreamed of Africa” is based on Gallmann’s book recounting one well-heeled white woman’s foray from dawdling around Venice, Italy, with her young son, Emanuele, in the wake of the exodus of her ex-husband, to moving off to Africa with her newest bohunk husband, Paolo, and wrastling pythons in the yard and chase elephants out of her lettuce patch. Vincent Perez (“The Crow: City of Angels”) plays expatriate babe husband for Basinger, and the movie’s first half prettily plods through the couple’s rough early days hacking it out Nubian-style with the natives: battling sand storms, making nice with the warriors next door, and picking up enough of the local tongue to be able to tell the Africans how to make dinner for them. Can anyone say “Out of Africa”?
Eventually, the film gets slightly more challenging, as the plot shifts from glorifying Gallmann’s pseudo-feminist methods of housewifing while the husband’s off shootin’ warthogs for dinner, to focus on what happens to a chick when the guys in her life start droppin’ like flies and she ends up with more graveplots in the backyard than cabbages. Basinger is competent but perhaps underwhelmed as an actor here; this is no “L.A. Confidential” and there’s more trembling lower lip than craft most of the time. Perez is well cast for the women that will come to see this film, primarily in relation to his nomination as one of *People* magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” And, the little Haley Joel Osment clone, Liam Aiken (“Stepmom”), puts in a decent performance as the young son who can’t stop playing with his snakes (and you know where that leads). The scenery is beautiful, and director Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire,” “My Life So Far”) probably is owed much of the credit for elevating “I Dreamed of Africa” out of the “Lifetime” movie genre.
“Why does life cost us so much?” Kuki the kookie man-galler who dared venture off to darkest Africa asks. “Why does this movie cost so much?” I want to know. This chick would pay $3.00 for it.