So sue me, but I didn’t know “King Solomon’s Mines” was a TV mini-series before watching it. Had I known, and considering my general aversion to TV mini-series (what, I gotta wait multiple nights to see how it all ends?), I wouldn’t have bothered. As it stands, “Solomon” could have been better. For instance, take out 90 minutes of it (that is, one whole night) and you’d have a decent standalone action-adventure. But as a two-parter, I’m afraid one can’t help but notice that during much of the first half nothing really happens.
“King Solomon’s Mines” stars the ex-dirty dancer himself, Patrick Swayze, as literary hero Allan Quatermain (played with gruff invincibility by Sean Connery in the big-screen “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”). While this version of novelist H. Rider Haggard’s hero remains a gritty adventurer (helped in no small part by Swayze’s lined face), he’s also a single parent with a teen son he hasn’t seen in years. Having left his cherished Africa for England in hopes of getting his son back, Quatermain gets the bad news that his deceased wife’s parents plan on adopting the boy as their own.
While Quatermain is drowning his sorrows in booze, spunky Englishwoman Elizabeth Matiland (Alison Doody) requests his help to rescue her father, an archaeologist who is being held in Africa by the power mad Twala (Hakeem Kae-Kazim). Elizabeth is ordered to bring her father’s map, which shows the way to King Solomon’s mines, to Twala or her father will be executed. Quatermain, an old friend of Elizabeth’s father, agrees to help, but he hasn’t counted on the dogged pursuit of Sergei (Langley Kirkwood), a nationalistic Russian soldier who has tracked down Elizabeth at the behest of his Czar. To make matters worst, leading Sergei and his band of killers is McNabb (Gavin Hood), a skilled tracker and Quatermain’s archenemy.
With over 3 hours to kill, the mini-series starts off painfully slow. Our main characters don’t even arrive in Africa until the 30-minute mark, and nothing of particular note really occurs until — you guessed it — the end of the first part. (It’s called a cliffhanger, doncha know.) Much of the first part consists of Quartermain’s group traveling across the endless plains of Africa as McNabb and the Russians plot to take away the map. Every now and then the two factions skirmish, but for the most part the narrative remains at a stalemate until the fast-paced second half.
As a mini-series with delusions of being epic, “Solomon” will delight those who buy the notion that Africa is the last, great untouched land. Mind you, I’m not disagreeing with this notion, but only saying that if you buy stock in the idea, then there are plenty of grand vistas to behold. Director Steve Boyum, last responsible for the under appreciated “Timecop 2”, is working from a modest budget. The action scenes are decent, but nothing to hang one’s hat on. In fact, compared to treasure hunting films in general, there’s a decidedly lack of an “adventure” feel to the “King Solomon’s Mines”.
Which leads me to this observation: “King Solomon’s Mines” should have been a 90 to 100 minute movie. As a 3-hour mini-series, there’s just not enough adventure in the script to carry the day. In-between Quartermain and McNabb’s respective groups skirmishing (to break the monotony of endless walking, one presumes), there’s an interesting subplot about an exiled African king who uses Quatermain’s quest to his advantage. The exiled king is played by Sidede Onyulo (“Nowhere in Africa”), who is quite a good actor and brings a certain class to the whole thing. In fact, the screenwriters might have felt the same way, because for a while the whole Solomon’s mines angle seems to fade into the background.
As for the primary cast, Patrick Swayze is far from his glory days in “Ghost” and “Dirty Dancing”, and one can’t help but notice that very obvious limp he’s sporting nowadays. (The result of falling off a horse, according to the always informative IMDB.) And to be honest Swayze doesn’t make a very invincible Quatermain; I suspect that the film goes out of its way to heap pathos upon the man courtesy of a dead wife and an estranged son. Alison Doody, who broke onto the scene like gangbusters with “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, finally returns to the screen after a 10-year hiatus. And let me just say that Ms. Doody is just as gorgeous as ever; she’s so beautiful, in fact, it’s hard to notice the sweeping African background whenever she’s standing in front of it.
For those interested in epic adventures, “King Solomon’s Mines” might meet your needs — that is, if you’re not one of those really demanding viewers. It’s not nearly as epic as it could have been, and the script seems to lack enough adventures for a 3-hour film. The result is a lot of walking with little to show for it.
Another point of contention is the antagonism between Quartermain and McNabb. As written, the audience will be hardpressed to develop the need for blood that the two characters seem to be exerting toward one another. Maybe I just have a thicker skin than Quartermain and McNabb, but a business dispute and a whack to the back of the head doesn’t seem like something to get, you know, all blood vendetta-ish over. Then again, maybe that’s just me.
Steve Boyum (director) / H. Rider Haggard (novel), Steven H. Berman, Adam Armus, Nora Kay Foster (teleplay)
CAST: Patrick Swayze …. Allan Quatermain
Alison Doody …. Elizabeth Matiland
Gavin Hood …. Bruce McNabb
Hakeem Kae-Kazim …. Twala
Langley Kirkwood …. Sergei