Picks and Pans Review: Where the River Runs Black

UPDATED 10/06/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 10/06/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

As a visual experience this film is a triumph, with its spectacular sunsets and intensely colored vistas of the Brazilian rain forest. As a story it is an often laughable combination of The Emerald Forest, The Wild Child, Grey-stoke and an episode of Flipper. The plot centers on a boy born to a strange woman who lives alone on the banks of the River Negro. The boy is conceived when a missionary priest happens upon the woman, makes love to her and then paddles off in his canoe. The priest is promptly attacked by an anaconda that seems made of papier-mâché and behaves as if it thinks it's a kangaroo rather than a snake, leaping out of the water to demonstrate the wages of sin to the clergyman. The boy, played by Alessandro Rabelo, 10, an indifferent actor, grows up to be a good swimmer and a pal of the local dolphins. They even save him from a crocodile. (If the croc gives a truly wooden performance, it may be because it seems to have been carved, not hatched.) When his mother is murdered by a passerby, the boy ends up in a city many miles away—with a priest, Charles (Tootsie) Durning, who knew his father. The city is clearly undergoing an epidemic of coincidences, because Rabelo immediately finds the murderer, a politician in the middle of a big campaign. The film ends in a crescendo of implausibilities, most of which involve Rabelo's mystical relationship with the dolphins. Director Christopher (That Was Then...This Is Now) Cain wisely chose a cinematographer with vision, Juan (At Close Range) Ruiz-Anchia, and shot the film on location in Brazil, but screenwriters Peter Silverman and Neal Jimenez left him up the Amazon without a plot. (PG)

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