DIRECTOR: Kevin Reynolds | WRITERS: Tim Rose Price, Kevin Reynolds | CAST: Jason Scott Lee, Esai Morales, Sandrine Holt, Eru Potaka Dewes, George Henare, Gordon Hatfield | USA
I’m going to come right out and say that I really like Rapa Nui in spite of — maybe even because of — what a mess it is. The Kevins — producer Costner and director Reynolds — couldn’t decide on the tone for the movie: is it a serious History Channel-style docudrama about the disintegration of Easter Island’s culture and society in the years just prior to European contact? or an adventure-love story for dim-witted teenagers based on Romeo and Juliet and set in an exotic locale? The result is an uneasy mixture of a lot of both, with apparently historically accurate recreations of pre-contact Eastern Island material culture — shot on location — cheek by jowl with a shopworn plot, bad television dialogue, wink-at-the-audience jokey anachronisms, and embarrassingly bad acting. Plus class conflict, democracy versus theocracy, warnings about the dangers of deforestation and overpopulation, cannibalism, almost all the men bare-assed in loincloths and all the women topless, a bizarre Iron Man-style competition, and Sandrine Holt transformed from topless Valley Girl with a nice tan to consumptive blind butoh dancer after a few months’ confinement to a cave. Jason Scott Lee and Sandrine Holt as Romeo and Juliet are truly awful, Esai Morales is acting in a different movie altogether, and most of the other actors are just along for the ride, but there are two stand outs. Eru Potaka Dewes plays the head chief of Easter Island, Ariki-mau, as a dotty old fool lost in his own befuddlement and is fun, but George Henare is hugely entertaining as the coldly viperish and almost swish Tupa, the high priest and trusted advisor to the chief. Kevin Reynolds’ directing is barely competent, although the film comes alive whenever there’s a big set piece as with the carving and transporting of the moai, but especially during the Iron Man competition when near-naked hunks clamber down sheer cliffs and so on. Stewart Copeland’s score is better than it needed to be, but Stephen Windon’s cinematography is great, although Easter Island itself may have to take credit for how beautiful it looks.