A flashy entertainment with a good cast headed by a mighty river that never loses its power to scare the absolute devil out of you.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"The River Wild" is a wild ride indeed, a throat clutcher, a breath holder, a G-force that throws you back in your seat for a mad trip down Montana's Kootenai River. It is an action thriller that stars Meryl Streep, and that in itself demands that you shift your expectations before settling in. The multidimensional actress, who has starred in some of the better serious films of the decade, has decided to have some fun.

As soon as you make that leap you can enjoy the fact that, by all reports, she did most of her own boat handling and spent a lot of mishap-time in the boiling water. Meryl Streep acquires one new skill for each movie. This time she signs for the deaf, a feature that plays a nice role in the turmoil.

A recent preview audience could be heard grumbling here and there about "a third grade plot" and "predictability." Have they seen "Terminator," or "Aliens," or "RoboCop," those simple-minded movies-as-assault-weapons fired by cynical producers at audiences out for an evening's entertainment? "The River Wild" is a flashy entertainment with a good cast headed by a mighty river that never loses its power to scare the absolute devil out of you.

It is a blessed relief not to wait in fear of blood and bombs and exploding flesh. This violence comes in familiar clothes, a classic good guy/bad guy face-off. It's not "Who did it?" but "Who's going to make it?" There's not a New Age weapon in sight, just good old-fashioned fists, a pistol and David Strathairn playing the John Wayne we hope is buried just inside all our husbands.

Gail decides to celebrate her son Roarke's (Joseph Mazzello) birthday by taking the family down Montana's spectacular Kootenai River. For her, it's a return to the place she grew up in, a chance to relive her younger days as a river guide and give her son one last chance to see this superb natural resource before it is spoiled by tourists. That point may be moot for a white since it is hard to imagine your average mall vacationer braving even the mildest stretch of this wild force.

The questions are basic chestnuts: Will a marriage gone wrong go right? Who on the ill-fated journey will survive? Why do we need a sophisticated plot with that boiling river threatening everyone who approaches? There are times, believe me, when even the seat in the multiplex feels too close to the river.

Kevin Bacon has a good time being a bad guy, and Meryl Streep seems exultantly free of constraint and subtlety in the grand outdoors. This movie has all the ingredients of the best of the old westerns, in which a predictable plot powers the picture through a wonder of nature and lifts us out of pedestrian life for a wonderful little while. Besides, we get to be very, very scared for a long time without having to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 504
Studio: Universal
Rating: PG-13 1h51m

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