Meryl Streep can do anything. Comedy, drama, accents, age defiance, make unbearable choices, even play opposite Roseanne; anything! She can even go white water rafting. She’s a real life James Bond.
In “The River Wild” she takes a while to outsmart bad guys Kevin Bacon and John C Reilly, but she always maintains the raft through dangerous rapids while protecting her husband and son (David Strathairn and Joseph Mazzello).
See, according to Curtis Hanson’s adventure film, the best way to outrun the law following a robbery is to go white water rafting, even if you have no experience with the sport. That becomes a downer for Meryl Streep’s family getaway where tensions are high in her marriage to her workaholic husband. Fortunately, this setback might get them on the right track and Strathairn will find an appreciation for the dog that has come along. Reader, I won’t give it away but like I said, Meryl Streep can do anything. So the odds on the family pet making it out of this alive are pretty favorable. Too bad Mazzello and the dog won’t listen to dad when it’s necessary.
The plot of “The River Wild” is very simplistic. Hanson quickly gets to the river following some exposition of familial discourse at home. However, just because he gets to the river so soon, doesn’t mean that the thrills begin right away. There’s a lot of beautiful nature footage here and everyone is happily getting along. Bacon connects with Mazzello much to Strathairn’s chagrin, and he flirts charmingly with Streep. Then lo and behold, oh my stars, Kevin Bacon is a bad guy??? What?
Hanson gets some good action moments on the rapids and gets up close to the rocks and right into the water and down the impossible falls. The suspense is lacking though. Strathairn makes an escape in the woods. He’s got a good head start, and the best option he can come up is to climb a steep rock wall in plain sight with no coverage whatsoever. Kevin Bacon, what are you doing? Shoot the guy!!!! Mr. Hanson, you just brought your stride to a screeching halt.
That’s the problem with “The River Wild.” There’s a lack of thrill to it all. This is not a film brave enough to really endanger the dog, nor the kid, nor Streep. The worst that’s really done is a couple of punches to Strathairn and a cut above his eye.
Mazzello made it as the screamer kid star in his adolescent years in film (see “Jurassic Park”). Bacon seems like he wanted to get a little crazier in the villain role but he held back. I wanted him to cross the line a little more; a lot more actually. He wasn’t dangerous enough for me. Reilly was just a bumbling, worried accomplice in tow.
Hanson has done way better than this with his supreme effort, “L.A. Confidential” and even Eminem’s “8 Mile.” Thank goodness I can still respect the man’s career beyond this doused misfire.