"Arghh! You'll need Captain Morgan's special brew to get through this one"
While Cutthroat Island is nowhere near as awful as its dubious reputation indicates (the movie secured a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for losing more money than any other film in history), this Battlefield Earth-sized debacle did insure that no Hollywood plank walking would be done for years to come.Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin has never been one to miss an opportunity to blow something up, and on the visual end of the filmmaking spectrum, Cutthroat Island doesn’t disappoint, with full scale sea battles, excellent stunts and sword fights galore.
However, Harlin once again proves he hasn’t the slightest clue when it comes to dialogue, character or story. The six credited writers don’t offer much help, though the crippling miscasting of three-centuries too contemporary Geena Davis (Harlin’s wife at the time) and charm-less Matthew Modine doesn’t give them much of a chance.
Davis stars as the feared lady pirate Morgan Adams, terrorizing the high seas of the Caribbean until her father Black Harry (the reliable Harris Yulin) is killed. He bequeaths Davis one-third of a treasure map that has been tattooed on his scalp. No problem for Davis, and an off-screen scalping later she’s racing her uncle Dawg (a none-too-intimidating Frank Langella) for the treasure located on Cutthroat Island.
When Harlin sticks to pyrotechnic displays, the movie is a passable action/adventure, particularly once Davis’ crew, along with Langella and some greedy British naval officers, all end up at the titular location with gold fever.
But as soon as the film slows down or anyone speaks, the movie sinks faster than a lead anchor. Modine’s character, a thief saved from the gallows by Davis for his ability to translate Latin, was initially to be played by Michael Douglas, and Cutthroat Island desperately needs the roguish charm he brought to Romancing the Stone.
Modine is neither roguish nor charming, and he and Davis have zero chemistry as the bad one-liners zing along at a blistering pace. To make matters worse Harlin includes a lovable monkey (apparently related to primate in George Romero’s Monkey Shines) to add a few more chuckles. The result is an uneasy mix of blood-filled action and cutesy, unfunny comic relief.
Cutthroat Island returned barely over $10 million dollars on its $90-plus investment and forced a few careers to walk the plank. Modine never played another lead in a major movie and retreated to the world of independent film. Davis has since managed only the action-filled The Long Kiss Goodnight (also director by then-husband Harlin) a pair of films with a talking mouse and an extremely short-lived television show.Sadly, the career that continues to thrive after this mega-bomb is that of director Renny Harlin, since hoisting Deep Blue Sea and Driven upon moviegoers. Just be thankful Harlin wasn’t married to Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock at the time or Cutthroat Island might have lived up to its dismal place along among Hollywood’s biggest box-office duds.