More nightmare than dream, Hugh Hudson’s pictorially grandiose
but dramatically sloppy and episodic filmization of noted
conservationist Kuki Gallmann’s reminiscences of her life in
Kenya is a quintessential woman’s picture, akin to one of Ross
Hunter’s glossy weepies but set in a more exotic locale. The
story of the single mother whisked away with her young son to
the Dark Continent by her new husband, a handsome but somewhat
irresponsible Italian, and of the familial peaks and valleys
the trio go through over the span of a decade or so, “I Dreamed
of Africa” is pretty to look at, with scenic views that
resemble picture postcards. But it’s about as exciting and
coherent as a postcard, too, lurching uneasily from incident
to incident like a bloated mini-series from which half the
scenes have been cut and the other half are run at half-speed.
What’s intended as the tale of one woman’s fascination with
Africa and her growing self-confidence in the face of family
turmoil and increasing sense of responsibity for the
preservation of the environment comes across instead as an
unfocused, disconnected series of arbitrary episodes that
never develop any dramatic unity or emotional punch.

Perhaps the saga of squabbles with poachers and one another,
encounters with local tribesmen and dangerous animals, and
family tragedies could have worked if some intelligent
transitions had been fashioned to tie the material together,
and more than the most cliched sort of dialogue penned for
the characters. But such is not the case. The acting doesn’t
help, either. Kim Basinger is simply terrible in the lead
role; she resembles a model from the Lana Turner school of
performance rather than an actress of any consequence, and
her line readings are often incredibly amateurish. (It’s
unfortunate, too, that the protagonist is named Kuki–a
moniker repeated endlessly in the flat dialogue, and which
causes some viewers of a certain age automatically to think
about Edd Byrnes being asked to lend one his comb.) Vincent
Perez is colorless as her rambunctious spouse; he fails to
generate the charisma needed to engender the intended romantic
chemistry. Liam Aiken is merely okay as Kuki’s son at age
seven; Garrett Strommen has some presence as the teenaged
version of the character, but his motivations are so muddled
that the boy remains opaque and emotionally distant. It’s
nice to encounter Eva Marie Saint on film again as Kuki’s
fashion-conscious mother, but it’s a nothing role, and the
character appears and disappears with bewildering suddenness.
One might also mention the old-fashioned score by Maurice
Jarre, which sounds mostly like rejected scraps from the
music he composed long ago for “Lawrence of Arabia” (although
toward the close some African chants are employed, too).

Technically “I Dreamed of Africa” is pretty impressive (with
the obvious exception of Scott Thomas’ poor editing). The
cinematography by Bernard Lutic creates some lush, though
largely static, images, and the production design and art
direction are certainly professional. But all the lustre
Africa has to offer isn’t enough to overcome the calamitous
deficiencies in the writing and acting. In terms of films
about Africa, Hugh Hudson’s picture falls between “Out of
Africa” and “Gorillas in the Mist” on the one hand and the
awful Anthony Hopkins vehicle “Instinct” on the other.
Unfortunately, it leans more toward the latter end of the