The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

In 1898, two lions in deepest, darkest Africa were apparently responsible for the deaths of 130 people during the building of a railroad bridge. No normal lions these, for they hunted together and with no small amount of deliberation, unparalleled in the intensity of their brutality. For architect John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer), the challenge is to stop the lions so that he can continue building his bridge, even after all the African and Indian workers have left the site, paralyzed with fear.

Enter hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas). Why, with his savvy and Patterson’s book smarts, there’s no telling what they’ll accomplish!

Well, what they accomplish might be pretty obvious to all but the most naive of moviegoers, but it’s the thrill of the chase and all that. The lions confound typical descriptions; their behavior isn’t all that predictable, either. They seem to kill for the mere pleasure of it. Add in a cranky, overworked doctor and a pompous employer, and you have – as they say – all the makings of an action soaper. All that’s missing is a love interest, although Patterson’s pregnant wife makes a couple of appearances, one in a dream sequence.

It’s good to see Kilmer looking all strapping and such – reminding us he was indeed a Hot Star at one point – and Douglas looks just like he did in Romancing the Stone. Same kind of character, too. So it was nice to see him being grizzled and quirky, mostly because we knew he’d somehow Save the Day.

The movie is good spectacle, falling a little short of actual epic, but it’s sweepingly filmed, and you get a real sense of the African landscape, lovingly scoped by Vilmos Zsigmond. There aren’t many lapses in logic, and the suspense never really lets up. In all, it’s a fun time waster.

The Ghost and the Darkness: ***

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