May 15, 2000 12:00 PM

Kim Basinger, Vincent Perez

More than once during this seemingly endless ramble of a movie about an Italian woman’s move to Africa, her husband tells her, “Life has a different rhythm here.” He uses the line as a convenient, all-purpose response whenever she gripes about such behavior as neglecting his chores on their ranch to run off on hunting and fishing trips. A different rhythm, however, accurately describes I Dreamed of Africa’s plodding pacing and minimalist approach to storytelling. Instead of building to any kind of crescendo, the movie is a series of weak beats leading nowhere.

Based on a 1991 memoir by Italian author Kuki Gallmann, I Dreamed tells how its upper-class, divorced heroine (Basinger) heads from Venice to Africa with her new husband (Perez) and young son to start a fresh life in a land to which both she and he have always felt drawn. Upon buying a ranch in a beautiful, remote spot in Kenya, the couple encounter both challenges (devastating wind storms, rampaging lions, problematic poachers) and rewards (languid lovemaking sessions, exquisite scenery, thoughtful servants). Although plenty happens to Basinger’s plucky gal—without giving away too much, suffice it to say that she makes not one but two graveside speeches—incident is piled upon incident willy-nilly, with the end result a formless heap. Only in a written tag at the end do we even learn that Gallmann has become a well-respected conservationist.

Even more curious for a movie set in the African bush, I Dreamed is resolutely Caucasian. Aside from some fleeting images—servants gliding in and out of scenes, a visit with a tribal chief and confrontations with poachers—pale faces dominate. Whose continent is it anyway? That said, director Hugh Hudson doesn’t stint when it comes to showcasing the natural beauty of Africa’s landscape and wildlife, enough to inspire one to start saving pennies for a vacation there.

Basinger, who was such a revelation in L.A. Confidential, toils hard but gets no help from a script requiring her to whine, “Why does love cost so much?” Perez comes across more as lounge lizard than charmer. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Jungle rot

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