Marlin Darrah is an award-winning director of nature and travel documentaries, so it’s not surprising that he opens his film Amazon Queen with a montage of scenes from the rainforest. Then we move to the city of Manus where a robbery is in progress. That leads to a double-cross at the airport leaving Machado (Massi Furlan, Wrong Place, Randy’s Canvas) and Silva (Clayton Meek) without their money. Expecting something like this Machado hid a tracking device in with the money.
Elsewhere Jackie (Carly Diamond Stone, Cash Collectors) and her business partner Flynn (Nick Dreselly Thomas) are worried about their futures. Their tour boat The Tucano needs repairs and money is tight. They’re about to take a group that includes Sam (Alfonso DiLuca, Jane the Virgin), a journalist, as well as Maggie (Vicky Dawson, The Prowler, Carbon Copy) and her daughter Leilah (Cristina Encarnacion, Illume the Movie) out on the river when two men show up wanting tickets and paying in cash.
Darrah and co-writers Rick Cullis and Richard Lasser (The Counting House) have taken a very familiar plot and set it in one of the most picturesque places in the world. Add a title and poster that invokes Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen and release it to cash in on Jungle Cruise. Even if The Asylum beat them to it with Jungle Run.
Unfortunately, Amazon Queen is just too leisurely-paced for its own good. As TheTucano, (which means Tucan, not queen) makes its way up the river the film concentrates on the passengers’ dramas. The incident back in the US that Flynn is running from, the issues between Maggie and Leilah. Leilah and Silva’s mutual attraction. Eventually, Jackie’s terminally ill and estranged father Francisco (Carson Grant, Dirty Diamond) turns up to add to the melodrama.
I also wanted the movie to reflect the horrible background issue of deforestation – the systematic burning of the Amazon (mainly to create pasture land for cattle) and the stripping of the Amazon of its natural treasures.Marlin Darrah
Between that and the, admittedly beautiful footage of the river and the indigenous people they encounter, it would be easy to forget that Amazon Queen was supposed to be an adventure thriller. Darrah has a great eye for composing a shot, and the scenes of the boat on the river look great, as do the shots of the characters ashore in the rainforest and the various wildlife they see.
But he really seems to have little idea how to stage the narrative part of the film or work with actors. I’m sure the fact much of the cast is inexperienced didn’t help matters. Worst of all is a script that seems to be concerned more with being family-friendly and delivering a message about the deforestation of the Amazon than generating thrills. Just having the bad guys on the boat is not by itself suspenseful. They have to
By the time Machado is given away by the world’s most detailed police sketch, the film is two-thirds over and has done almost nothing to build suspense. Even after that, not much happens and Amazon Queen never picks up its pace or establishes a sense of danger. Almost all of the film’s action is saved for the last ten minutes and leads to an ending that I thought was stupid the first hundred times I saw it.
Amazon Queen is like an extended episode of a network TV show, beautifully shot but utterly safe and predictable. And if you like TV shows or want something you can play in the background or watch with the kids then this should suit you. If you’re looking for an actual action film you’ll be disappointed.
Vision Films will release Amazon Queen to VOD on October 12th. You can check their website for more information.