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Tusks Reviews

Filmed several years ago in Zimbabwe under the title FIRE IN EDEN, this movie underwent delays and postproduction surgery before limping into the 1990 home-video marketplace as TUSKS. An unsure blend of wildlife conservation drama and revenge thriller, the film features Lucy Gutteridge as Micah Hill, a famous artist invited to an African nature preserve by park ranger Ian Taylor (Julian Glover). He wants her visit to bring attention to the plight of the elephant herds, which are under constant threat from poachers. Micah imprudently speaks out against Roger Singh (John Rhys-Davies), a notorious ivory hunter. Fresh out of prison, Singh nurses a grudge against his former partner, Mark Smith (Andrew Stevens), who testified against Singh in court and who is now a park ranger. On the trail of an elephant herd that has strayed from the nature preserve, Singh, Mark, and Micah collide, and considerable unpleasantness results. Singh kidnaps Micah to force a showdown with Mark, who's fallen in love with her. After some tedious chase scenes in the veldt, Singh gets flattened by a jeep, but before dying he exacts his revenge in the brutal conclusion. However, the film's final images are of elephants strolling safely as happy music plays and the credits roll. TUSKS suffers from general sloppiness that is somewhat understandable given the circumstances of the film's production. It was conceived by Tara Hawkins Moore, a Maryland-based wildlife artist, onetime fashion model, and documentarian. Making a film in the wilds of southern Africa proved a more difficult undertaking than Moore ever imagined. Reportedly, not only was she faced with uncooperative actors whose ad-libbing ruined the continuity of the story, but also, when half the project's funding disappeared after a pullout by fickle South African investors, some members of the cast and crew responded with work stoppages and other mischief. In one instance cameras were locked up at a critical juncture in the shooting. Nevertheless, Moore managed to raise the needed funds and brought the film in for less than $2 million. But she then found distributors unwilling to get behind a nature film that wasn't intended for a youthful audience. Eventually, TUSKS was exhibited overseas, but its US run consisted mainly of a benefit screening for the Baltimore Zoo. Considering all the obstacles encountered by Moore, it should come as no surprise that TUSKS fails to hang together. But though it lacks a consistent point of view, there are moments when a more cohesive film can be glimpsed lurking in the underbrush. To Moore's credit, there is much about the main characters that is unexpected and interesting. Micah is a strident city-dweller who doesn't know as much about wildlife conservation as she thinks she does, and Glover turns out to be a twitching fanatic who places Micah in jeopardy so that her martyrdom will rally international opinion against poachers. But perhaps the most intriguing character is Singh, whom cowriter Rhys-Davies invests with subtle emotional shading. It's suggested that self-loathing over his mixed parentage has molded Singh's violent persona, but once this motivation is established, the plot does little with it. Likewise the screenplay fails to take advantage of other promising set-ups; notably, Micah's prolonged captivity with Singh leads only to stale dialog and a surfeit of stock footage, including real-life scenes of elephants being killed and butchered during a government-sanctioned "thinning" of the herds. Reportedly, Zimbabwean authorities, wary of bad publicity over these scenes, compelled Moore to set the story in the fictitious nation of "Sekomo." In any case, the end credits proclaim that no animals were killed, maimed, or harmed in making the picture. On a completely different note, fans of James Coburn may want to pay close attention to the opening of TUSKS for a look at James Coburn, Jr., who greatly resembles his father. (Profanity, violence, nudity, adult situations, sexual situations.)