There's an awful of palaver in this movie about the beauty, mystery and awesome power of Africa. Too bad, then, that we spend so much time trudging through the domestic difficulties of an Italian woman who emigrates to Kenya only to happen upon a ravaged elephant and wonder, "What kind of people do this?" Africans do that, silly, and they have since the dawn of time. And to behave in such a way in front of veteran viewers of The Discovery Channel (that's us, in the theater seats) is to bring us terribly close to irritation and even closer to boredom.
Yet that is the story of Kuki (yes, someone should lend her a comb) Gallmann, from whose memoir and screenplay this film is made, and who is played by image-conscious actor Kim Basinger. We watch as Gallmann qualifies herself for the Kenyan outback by marrying a man whom she obviously doesn't know, Paolo (played with wide eyes by French actor Vincent Perez), and then bitching about him having a good time while she tends house.
While hubby's out hunting and gallivanting (he pays for it by dying in an off-screen car crash), Kuki's having almost no fun at all, unless you count sitting atop hilltops admiring the scenery. And raising children. She has a daughter late in the movie, to join her son, who is a herpetology freak. (He pays for that, too.) And in the epilogue, we learn that this hunter's wife who raised cattle (now widely known as an earth-unfriendly beast) has become renowned as a conservationist. Riiight.
Compounding sins, director Hugh Hudson gives us a Kenya that is dusty, bleak and generally unappealing. Rarely has a movie about Africa aroused so few feelings of escapism. Hudson made the continent (if not his movie) look better in "Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." But here, we're left to grapple with arid stereotypes of scotch-guzzling Englishmen and wine-sipping Englishwomen, wizened tribal chieftains and cute, Sambo-like children.
And, of course, movie star Basinger. She looks great striding around the set in khakis instead of pearls, as if to trumpet her ability to play tough as well as glam, as she did so well in "L.A. Confidential." At 46, she is moving from simply gorgeous to gorgeously handsome. As she walks through "I Dreamed of Africa," you'll be excused if you get the impression that Africa would be a lovely place if only it weren't for the people. Or that it would be a better place if only the people all tried harder to please Kuki and Kim. With egos like those on the plains, it's a marvel there's room for anything else at all.