There are some nasty rumours swarming around that director Renny Harlin made a turkey called Cutthroat Island. I cannot begin to imagine why this film upset the critical establishment. Yes, it had a big budget coming at a time when pirate movies weren't cleaning up financially. However, there's a Saturday morning pictures nostalgia behind Harlin's adventure: the promise of riches and triumphing over evil, which struck a chord with me.
What profits an adventure without a worthwhile villain? Enter Frank Langella as the evil uncle Dawg Brown. He seeks the other two parts of a treasure map, the location of which will make him a very wealthy and fat pirate. Meanwhile, his niece Morgan Adams (Geena Davis) defies the British by sailing into Port Royal. Her section of the map happens to be in Latin, so she buys thief and "doctor" William Shaw (Matthew Modine) so he might help her translate. They get up to all manner of trouble, while Dawg continues to hound his poor niece.
Meanwhile, John Debney's orchestral soundtrack makes the most of those power moments... circumstances where sound effects and dialogue fade in volume to serve the symphony. Although he oversells one storm sequence with a choir, many musical ideas resonate fondly.
As to the reputation of Cutthroat Island, I have this closing thought. Even a ship too big for its budget can convey high entertainment where tone remains consistent. So make the journey, and you might enjoy the ride.
Time to rhyme:
Cutthroat Island the box office bomb
A date left at the prom.
Most critics were unkind
With other things in mind.
I bear only good news.
To surrender I refuse.
For Renny Harlin's treasure map
Turned out to be no mishap.
Geena Davis rocks and rolls
When her boat breaks upon the shoals.
Matthew Modine - the epitome of charm
His presence causing little alarm.
Oh, but Frank Langella stole
The most important role!
As Dawg Brown, he bellows and thunders
Reminding others of their blunders.
John Debney's music was an important sentry.
Terrific themes upon entry.
In the style of swashbucklers past,
He generates considerable bombast.
Every bulkhead felt true
The dedicated work of a crew.
Not all goals are free,
Cutthroat Island entertained me.
(Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)