Renny Harlin directs Geena Davis, Matthew Modine and Frank Langella in this infamous pirate movie that flopped massively.
It killed a studio. Proved women couldn’t lead action blockbusters. Highlighted that pirate films never work at the box office. All nonsense of course. Twenty years down the line the best you could say was Cutthroat Island is a folly but not one indicative of box office trends. Carloco Pictures was already struggling to make ends meet before production began. They had the choice of this project or an Arnold Schwarzenegger / Paul Verehoven crusades epic as their last shot at survival. Paul Verehoven came into a production meeting with some extreme ideas one day and Cutthroat Island was greenlit by default. They raised a lot of the budget by pre-selling it to foreign distributors. The package was Davis, Michael Douglas and massive period set action. Then Douglas pulled out. When they couldn’t find a leading man Davis and director Harlin tried to run also. Their contracts wouldn’t allow it. So Modine was roped in. The film HAD to be made as it had already been sold. And no one wanted to be there. Maybe that explains why it is all so distant and uninvolving. Because Cutthroat Island is a handsome lavish production. The costumes and the ships and the locations look like a $100 million dollars but the direction of them and acting in them is half hearted at best. Davis behaves like a secondary school teacher who has to oversee a two hour detention rather than the captain of a ship. Modine apes Kevin Kline for a bit but eventually gives up and matches his co-star’s ambient energy. Harlin stages spectacular battles and stunts but never involves the audience in them. There are lines that sound like jokes without any humour to them. There is a conspiracy of factions at loggerheads but this never produces much peril or conflict. It just sits there like a very expensive punishment. There are far worse blockbusters out there. Uncharismatic, sloppy cash-ins that should never have seen the inside of a picturehouse. Cutthroat Island isn’t one of those travesties… it merely has the misfortune of having the reputation and box office of one with little else to exonerate it.