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'Solomon’ Fails to Mine the Excitement

6/13/2004 8:00 PM Eastern

You might call it “Nearly Indiana Jones and the Latest Crusade,” but the Hallmark Channel has titled it King Solomon’s Mines, the latest version of the classic book by H. Rider Haggard.

It virtually screams for comparison to the Indiana Jones franchise, since it shares so many plot elements: pursuit of a treasure in a temple/mine, heavily fortified with booby traps; near escapes from hostile natives; and a map to the treasure that volleys between the good guys and the bad guys.

The hero even wears his hat to the very end, though there’s no bullwhip in sight.

The film even goes so far as to cast the same actress, Allison Doody, who played the seductively evil Dr. Elsa Schneider in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But this version is a milquetoast rendition of the genre, almost totally lacking in drama and excitement, exemplified by an extremely stagy “fight to the death” scene that’s supposed to be the climax of the film. I’ve seen girl fights at month-end clearance sales with more verve.

The production values are very professional: beautiful locations (South Africa stands in for the “Land of the Kuakuanis”), picturesque costumes (even on the fully covered natives) and a charming, if repetitive, score. But it’s dragged down by, among other things, a one-note performance by Patrick Swayze as hunter-turned-hero Allan Quartermaine.

He shows little of the charisma that lit up films like Ghost and few sparks fly between him and his lady love, Elizabeth Maitland (Doody). Her character I liked, however. It was neither a screeching diva nor a fainting damsel in distress, but very real and believable.

Quartermaine and Maitland meet in England after the woman receives a ransom demand for her father. The two travel to the Dark Continent, unaware they are being followed by soldiers of the Russian czar, who funded Professor Maitland’s work. Both the soldiers and natives want a stone located among the riches in the mines.

Quartermaine’s party is joined by a mysterious shaman who turns out to be … well, I won’t ruin the surprise for any neophytes out there.

King Solomon’s Mines debuted this weekend and will reprise June 20 at 4 and 6 p.m. ET.

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