There’s been a lot of discussion lately on how women are criminally underrepresented at the box office. Men seem to have all the fun when it comes to action hero parts, superhero parts, serial killers, etc, but every now and then, there’s a rush of sort of “girl power” movies that tend to be either hit or miss. Which means in the same year we got Clueless, we also got Cutthroat Island.
I had never seen it before. Like the rest of the Earth’s population, I had missed it, well…much like a ship in the night. but now that almost 20 years has gone by, it still gets talked about. Mostly just about killed a studio (combined efforts with Showgirls, another “girl power” film, if you will). A quick search on Wikipedia will tell you that Geena Davis was married to the director at the time, that it cost hundreds of millions of dollars and only took in $11 million while in theaters. It will also tell you that no one wanted to be in it.
So, the prospect for adventure is very high indeed.
The plot is extremely complicated. Its a two hour plus extravaganza that seems to go on for at least a week. Morgan (Davis) has a stellar pirating legacy led by her father but is just waiting for the opportunity to prove her mettle, which she gets when she needs to find a place called Cutthroat Island (whoever named it was not thinking of the tourism industry or possible real estate development for families). There’s treasure, blah blah blah and also one third of a map.
I should mention that this portion of the map she does have was originally tattooed on her father’s head. He dies at the beginning so she scalps him for it and wanders around the rest of the movie carrying it around casually like its a set of keys.
I’d like to back up and just point out that the first major plot point of this film is Geena Davis scalping her father and carrying it around. Even that would warrant a squeamish look from Quentin Tarantino.
Morgan’s foe is a bad pirate named Dawg. Yes, you read that right. His name is Dawg and he’s played by classically trained and long respected actor Frank Langella, who also brought Skeletor to life in 1985’s live action spectacle, He-Man: Masters of the Universe. If you haven’t seen that, do yourself a favor, stop reading this and attend to that. He’s got Map #2, which is carved on a piece of wood, proving that even he has his limits when it comes to using human skin from a loved one.
Lastly is our male romantic lead, played by Matthew Modine. I have chosen to not remember his name. His character is bland that tries really hard to have a personality. He smirks and says cutely sarcastic things, but he doesn’t bring any special skills to the table. Yet, Geena Davis will fall in love with him.
This movie cost over $100 million back in 1995, but you’d never know it. Everything in this film looks like it was done on the cheap. Except for the wigs. Those looked totally legit.
For a movie that boasts a lot of money, this is the cheapest looking treasure I’ve ever seen.
The other highlight of this movie is the ridiculously complicated missions to get simple things. For example – Geena needs to find someone who speaks Latin. So here’s the process…
Dress up like a fancy lady and go to prison.
Instead of having Matthew Modine just translate Dad’s scalp right there in prison, they break him out and cause a town riot which most likely destroys everything.
She also manages to get shot and Modine swoops in for a romantic subplot that comes in out of nowhere.
But hey, they found a Latin translator. So that’s all that matters.
Geena is leading a pirate ship to Cutthroat Island in search of treasure, which is a feel good idea for 20th century feminist America. Before we cheer too loudly, I’d like to point out that she’s a terrible leader.
She consistently leads her team into dangerous situations with no real strategy. There’s always at least one kid involved.
She makes decisions based on conversations with Matthew Modine, who she doesn’t really know all that well.
Matthew Modine’s life skills (as demonstrated by what he does and not what he says) are telling lies, kind of knowing Latin and wearing leather tank tops. Also jabbing Geena Davis with a fake needle.
He just sort of stumbles into getting caught here and there. And yet, Geena Davis’ literal right hand man.
The lesson here is that if you’re looking for adventure, just hire really incompetant people – sit back and let the drama begin.
Dawg on the other hand has a loyal team of pirates that he treats well, listens to their ideas, unifies forces and does not carry around his father’s scalp. One might argue, he could be the hero of this movie.
Despite all that, Geena and Co. win the day, the treasure, overall life itself and sail into the horizon willing to make all the mistakes all over again.
Not the studio though – they shut down shortly after this movie was released.
However, if you still crave more Geena Davis action, you can play her as a video game…
Anybody got a Super Nintendo and $9.95 I can borrow?