Case Number 11489


Lionsgate // 1995 // 118 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // June 1st, 2007

The Charge

The Course Has Been Set. There Is No Turning Back. Prepare Your Weapons. Summon Your Courage. Discover the Adventure of a Lifetime!

Opening Statement

Geena Davis is hot. She's always tickled my fancy, which must mean I've liked what I've seen of her. In Commander in Chief she played a mature, seasoned, still attractive woman with great legs. Maybe she's not as hot as she once was, but she's still quite pleasant on the eyes. Still, in the back of my mind is Cutthroat Island. What little I recall are a few scenes and a saucy Davis in some yummy pirate gear. Seeing the film all these years later brought forth quite the shock, as the movie is more dreadful than memory serves; and, worse, Davis isn't as hot either.

Is there any point in watching this disc?

Facts of the Case

Morgan Adams (Davis) finds herself in a race against her uncle, Dawg Brown (Frank Langella, Superman Returns), to find the greatest pirate bounty ever, hidden on Cutthroat Island. In her quest to put together the three pieces of the treasure map, Adams buys slave William Shaw (Matthew Modine, Married to the Mob) because he can read Latin. As the hunt progresses, Adams must not only battle her uncle but also her crew, the elements, and the government. Can she survive all the deadly obstacles in her path?

The Evidence

The history on this movie is quite entertaining, and, if you're like me, you probably forgot most of it. If that's the case, recall that Cutthroat Island was a huge flop, costing over a hundred million dollars and taking in only twelve million in return. It lost so much money it bankrupted Carolco Studios. What happened? It was something of a perfect storm, but most of it can be blamed on director Renny Harlin. Hot off the success of Cliffhanger (probably his best movie), the studio gave him free reign to do whatever he wanted in his pirate adventure. And he did. He hired his girlfriend, Davis, for the lead role, thereby alienating all the XY chromosomes in Hollywood. He put together a shoddy script, and then came up with a movie that misfires on most marks.

Cutthroat Island is definitely a weak movie. Whether it's the corny, anachronistic dialogue or the marginal acting, it's hard to buy into it. You can't quite believe what you're seeing because of the two leads. Davis just isn't convincing as a pirate. She's too pretty and feminine to come across as what a pirate should be. Modine just isn't convincing as a man. He's too fey and wussy to end up as the leader of a ship. But that's what happens when you make a woman the star. The big Hollywood guys don't want to play second fiddle in an action movie to a woman.

Sitting through this two-hour movie is a mixed bag. The first hour confirms the utter failure at the box office. Here you'll find the worst dialogue and acting, topped with a stilted plot that doesn't gel. It's an odd conglomeration of moments impersonating a narrative, all stuck together with tepid acting and weak dialogue. Thankfully, one can soak in the beautiful locations used in the movie. It's absolutely gorgeous, adding the only authenticity to the film. (Actually that's a bit unfair, as the pirate vessels themselves are also an excellent piece of work.) Then things saunter into the second hour and shuffle towards the climax. When said climax comes, it does offer some redemption, and you find yourself enjoying a rousing good battle. Oh, the plot and everything else is still silly, but Harlin does know how to go off his rocker in an action-way, and the climactic battle is a good one. It all caps off with one of the finest explosions on film. (Though that explosion -- and the many others -- is also quite anachronistic as well.) It's a solid ending on an otherwise lackluster film; sadly, this can't save the entire movie.

Not only do we have a disappointing feature, but we also have a disappointing DVD. I did a quick search and thought this was the first time that Cutthroat Island had been released on disc. It appeared that this film had slipped through the cracks but was finally going to see the light of day thanks to the third entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I was wrong. It turns out this release is the second incarnation of the movie on DVD. Research also informs me that this release is the exact same disc from the first go-round. The disc wasn't good back then, and it's even worse today.

First up is the video transfer, a 2.35:1 non-anamorphic print. That's right; in 2007 a studio has the audacity to release a film without the anamorphic treatment. Shame on Lions Gate. Further, the video is as hit-and-miss as the movie itself, with some scenes looking lovely and others looking awful. There are wild fluctuations throughout the film, and some of the bad stuff you'll get includes soft scenes, graininess, artifacting, aliasing, and some wonderful horizontal streaks. It's really a bad print, worsened by the idea of the studio's lazy attempt at this re-release. Compounding this is the inconsistent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Again, some scenes are well represented, while others suffer. The primary problem is that when you set a good volume for the dialogue, which is normally clean and understandable, it turns out that the special effects and music are too loud. It's out of balance. On top of that, there were several instances when the entire soundtrack went silent for a second. Happily, the track comes alive in the climax with good bass action and nice use of the surrounds.

Topping it all off is the pitiful bonus features. You get some text "cast and crew" info, which also includes a few pages of moderately interesting "production notes." Next, and last, are the Cutthroat Island teaser and theatrical trailers. Laziness rears its head again under the "Coming Attractions" tab, which lists Basic Instinct, Terminator 2, Dirty Dancing, Reservoir Dogs, Total Recall, Stargate, The Doors, Red Heat, Madonna: Truth or Dare, The Arrival, and The Substitute. This is just a list of movies; the trailers aren't included.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Did I mention that really cool explosion at the end? It's really big and cool.

Closing Statement

Geena Davis, where did your hotness go? I know you used to have it, and I would have sworn that you were quite the dish in Cutthroat Island. Where were you hot? Why wasn't it in this movie? What happened? Also, what happened with Cutthroat Island? Was it ahead of its time or was it just really bad? It wouldn't have mattered if it was released closer to Pirates of the Caribbean because it would look worse, even with a more open and willing audience. And, in comparison to that film, you can easily see why Cutthroat Island failed. If you have any fond memories of this, you probably have a faulty recollection like me. Before you buy, rent it first.

The Verdict

Cutthroat Island is found guilty of being a lackluster, lazy double-dip. It's ordered to walk the plank.

Review content copyright © 2007 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 50
Audio: 80
Extras: 5
Acting: 70
Story: 75
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile
Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Cast & Crew
* Trailers

* IMDb