Mrs. Junkfood Cinema: Cutthroat Island

Junkfood CinemaEditor’s Note: Toni Salisbury is guest-writing this week on behalf of her husband who is taking one of those breaks that you need after eating 18 hot pockets on a “dare.”

Welcome back, Cinema Junkies. Your regular host–the connoisseur of crap, maitre d’ miserable, reviewer of the rotten and lover of lost causes, Brian Salisbury–is taking a brief hiatus to restock his celluloid pantry with the most fattening films he can find. And like a doting father loathes to leave his child with a strange, menacing babysitter for the first time, he asked Mrs. Junkfood to smooth the transition. Which I would do if this column WOULD JUST STOP SCREAMING! THEN I WOULDN’T HAVE TO SHAKE IT! (note: I have never shaken a baby, and neither should you. Ever.) With that in mind, I invite the reader to indulge his (or her) weekly appetite for the ridiculously bad (and bad-for-you) film and food pairing that is Junkfood Cinema.

Since nature documentaries are hardly ever anything but vegan-like in mental effect, I chose to review the only film I repeatedly watch that both lowers my IQ and raises my cholesterol at the same time. It is the most pungent of the stinkers, the limpest of the flops, feature-filmiest of B movies–and my personal go-to-in-the-dark-of-night-when-no-one’s-around-and-God-help-you-if-you-catch-me-watching-this-guilty-pleasure movie: Cutthroat Island.

What Makes It Bad?

Most of the clearance bin fodder glorified in this column end up in their sorry states due to budgets that make couch cushion change look exorbitant. Not so with Renny Harlan’s 1995…erm…blockbuster. This beast of a movie managed to tank despite its $98 million budget. Don’t forget that’s 1995 dollars, the current equivalent of which amounts roughly to the price James Cameron paid for the moon. This production spared no expense for the “best” actors, “witty” writing and “actual” visual effects. Let’s focus on that first ironic quotation mark first, shall we?

Though not necessarily in order of appearance, I’ll list our players in order of least-to-most important to the “plot” and, coincidentally, from best-to-Oh-God-Make-It-Stop in terms of actual talent. First, the film introduces Dawg Brown (Frank Langella): Bad Pirate, but more notoriously, Bad Chief-of-Staff from Dave. It introduces the fat, bookish caretaker (Maury Chaykin), who dutifully follows his ward to Port Royal and on to the legendary treasure. Ultimately, he betrays her to the Port Authority, likely in an effort to fulfill his lifelong dream of suffering a stress-related heart attack at any second. (Update: the actor did) It introduces Will Shaw (Matthew Modine), the blundering thief with a heart of gold. And avarice, but mostly gold. I was halfway through the movie before I realized it wasn’t  Cary Elwes. It wasn’t, but the shrieking eels *do* make a cameo appearance in a tavern brawl!

Most importantly, it introduces our heroin, Morgan Adams (Geena Davis). I’ll wait. Captain. Morgan. That’s all. Her captaining is decisive and commands active listening, if not respect. Her one-liners are pithy, if stilted. And her visage is…plain. She pretends at frilly ladying and scantily clad whoring, both, but those are points of the movie in which I am unable to suspend my disbelief. How does she keep makeup on that greasy, homely face, what with all the sweating and lank, unappealing hair in it? And how are any men taken in by her? At least the rest of her performance is as boxy as a her jawline.

The stunted, forced, unemotional, American-dialected acting is above reproach, if only because you’re not quite paying adequate attention to delivery. Instead, you’re having to scoop your jaw off the floor and shove your eyeballs back into your face, Loony Tunes style, in response to 75% of the script itself. Have I mentioned that this movie cost $119 million to make? With regards to that stellar scripting, the film opens with a ball joke in first 2 minutes, it’s score is clearly composed by Sir Epic Adventureman and it utilizes a daring combination of horses and slow-mo kicking. Really, though, it has a bit of everything, if you’re not looking for award-winning performances. This includes the “A+ Participant!” award elementary school music teachers–who are also acting as director of the school play–are required to give to the little boy they put way back in the corner of the set with a can of Play-Doh because otherwise he would have eaten the little leading lady’s hair.

I digress. A bit of everything including explosions, sword fights, slow-mo running while the characters deliver regular-mo dialogue, charting, and an honest-to-badness tourist-trap gift store pirate flag. Oh, and every pirate stereotype imaginable, replete with environmental nonchalance common only in the likes of BP executives (too soon?). For example: “..Run him aground on the coral heads and kill him there..”?! No! That kills the coral heads there! Where was PETA on this one? What, are colonial polyps not charismatic enough for your cause? Need they run aground on a shoal of Bengal Tiger heads? And another thing, that cage is waaay too small for that Blue-and-yellow Macaw. At least they had a $135 million budget to fail to spend on larger housing for that bird. My only other animal-related complaint happens to pop up in this movie; it’s certainly not the sole production to add (or fail to remove) bird songs of birds that could not possibly be in the locations they are supposed to be located in: in this case, Pied-billed Grebes and Common Loons in Caribbean jungle islands. I get to be nerdy about things besides movies.

Aside from an absurd amount of explosions, CI doesn’t have much in the way of effects, practical or “special” (being “eats-the-paste” kind of special). Granted, we’ve gotten jaded by movies like National Treasure, Aladdin and Blank Check. Their treasures fill secret alcoves lit by rivers of fuel; gold and jewels piled haphazardly for miles in Caves of Wonders far beneath the desert sands, boggling the mind; and indoor swimming pools. When our shy maid Cutthroat Island deigns to reveal her treasure, it is with that quality most appealing in a heap of gold…modesty. One would think a movie with a $187 million budget could afford to pile the fake doubloons higher than a pitcher’s mound.

And yet…

Why I Love It!

In 1995, I was the EXACT demographic to fully enjoy this exact movie: a scrape-kneed tomboy, young enough to still have an imagination, but old enough to design and build really kickin’ treasure hunts (to my little brother’s delight, and our parents’ chagrin). Using every stair banister, bed sheet and piece of twine at my disposal, I would hoist the Jolly Roger, safety pin a wretched sock monkey to my shoulder and pillage my mom’s jewelry box and our candy drawer. I’m positive there are still chocolate Hanukkah coins and single earrings stashed behind unread books and under rugs at my parents’ house. Caught up in my rabid piratical fervor, my brother would go collect sticks and we would range out into the neighborhood, gather our respective crews and terrorize each other. All because of Cutthroat Island.

After seeing this movie, I was obsessed. I learned everything I could about pirates. I wanted to be the strong-willed, independent, brave, intelligent Morgan Adams. And, while I admit to leaning heavily on nostalgia for most of the good I see in it today, I *still* want to be Morgan Adams. Beyond that, it’s a fun movie. Yes, a bit overdone in places, but it tries so hard to be good! Like, $241 million tries hard! It’s nonstop action, explosions, fighting, drinking, betrayal, monsters, true lov…no, wait. That’s a better movie. But it has everything else, without all that nonsense about meaningful plot or needing to pay attention! It’s good, old-fashioned eye-gluttony.

Junkfood Pairing for the kid in me (and in the readership): Pirate’s Booty

Junkfood Pairing for adults only: Captain Morgan’s

Pirate’s Booty is a supposedly healthier snacking alternative. However, like the movie, it’s mostly just flavorless fluff. To exact any real damage from this junkfood, you will have to, also like the movie, way overdo it. I suggest 3 to 4 bags for maximum heart-stopping effect. For adults, I recommend a healthy swill of the ol’ Captain right from the bottle. It might not be the best liquor in the cabinet, but it’s a sure bet that you’ll have a great time

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