Released in 1993 and produced by none other than Roger Corman, Fire on the Amazon takes place in Bolivia. Despite the protests of the indigenous population and the environmental activists who have flown down to support them, the Rain Forest is being destroyed by corporations, cattle ranchers, and military units. After an activist named Rafael Santos (Eduardo Cesti) is assassinated, photojournalist R.J. O’Brien (Craig Sheffer) comes down to document the accused assassin’s trial.
R.J. tries to remain detached from the injustices that he sees around him. Much like Robert Forster in Medium Cool, R.J. claims to be an observer and not a participant. But then he meets an environmentalist named Alyssa Rothman (a pre-stardom Sandra Bullock) and he comes to realize that the Bolivian government is covering up the details of Santos’s death. R.J. and Alyssa go deep into the Rain Forest, searching for evidence that can prove that the military was behind the assassination. The military, of course, is determined to keep them from doing that.
Fire on the Amazon is a Roger Corman films with a social conscience. It features several speeches about the importance of the Rain Forest and it ends with a title card informing viewers of how much of the Rain Forest was destroyed on a daily basis in 1993. Whatever else one might have to say about the films that Corman has either produced or directed, he has always seemed very sincere when it comes to his messages. That said, Corman has also always been very sincere in his belief that movies should make money and Fire on the Amazon doesn’t allow its environmental message to get in the way of the sex and violence that most of the film’s viewers were probably looking for. The film actually feels a bit like a companion piece to The Forbidden Dance. Yes, saving the Rain Forest is importance but so is doing the Lambada.
Today, if Fire on the Amazon is known for anything, it’s probably for the rather random sex scene featuring Sandra Bullock and Craig Sheffer. To be honest, while the scene is graphic and lengthy, the only thing that sets it apart from other low-budget sex scenes is the fact that it features a future Oscar winner. A huge problem with the scene is that there are next to no romantic sparks between Bullock and Craig Sheffer. Indeed, Sheffer gives such a lifeless performance that, at one point, it appears that he’s actually fallen asleep during the big sex scene. Fortunately, Sheffer sticks out his tongue long enough to let us know that he’s still alive.
Make no mistake about it, while Sandra Bullock may be the name that’s highlighted whenever this film shows up on a streaming site, Craig Sheffer is the star of the film. The majority of the film focuses on him as he wanders around Bolivia and whines about having to do his job. Though he’s certainly not helped by the film’s script, Sheffer gives a performance that alternates between sleep-walking and histrionic shouting. The problem is that the only time Sheffer shows any emotion is when his character has been inconvenienced. He can watch the police beat up a man without barely lifting an eyebrow but, as soon as he’s arrested and put in a cell, the audience is subjected to over a minute of Sheffer shrilly screaming, “Call the embassy!”
It would be nice to say that Sandra Bullock gives a performance that transcends the material but, unfortunately, she’s miscast as a somber activist and, worst of all, she gets stuck with the film’s worst line when she tells Sheffer to write about what “you feel and not what you see.” It seems like better advice would be to do both but what do I know? I mean, as of right now, it seems like people focusing on what they feel as opposed to what they see has led to a lot of problems but maybe the 90s were a simpler time.
Just a year after this film was released, Sandra Bullock would star in Speed and become a star. This meant that Bullock would no longer be filming sex scenes in Roger Corman-produced eco-thrillers. It also meant that Fire on the Amazon would forever be promoted on DVD and Blu-ray as being a “Sandra Bullock film” while Craig Sheffer would often go unmentioned. (In Sheffer’s defense, he’s still acting and has given many performances that are a hundred times better than his work in Fire on the Amazon.) If you want to see a good film about Sandra Bullock in the jungle, check out The Lost City. If you want to see an entertaining environmentally-themed thriller from director Luis Llosa, check out Anaconda. Worthy intentions aside, Fire on the Amazon is best avoided.
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