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Duma (PG)

Release Date: September 30th, 2005 (NYC-Village East Cinemas and AMC Empire 25) by Warner Brothers Pictures.
The Cast: Alex Michaletos, Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Eamonn Walker
Directed by Carroll Ballard.

BASIC PREMISE: Xan (Michaletos), a young boy, bonds with Duma, his domesticated pet cheetah in South Africa. After Xan's father (Scott) dies, his mission is to set Duma free into the wild.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: This breathtakingly beautiful film takes a while to get going, as Xan and his father find Duma and treat him like a pet. The plot really becomes engaging after Xan's father dies and Xan rides on a motorcycle with Duma to bring him back into the wild. After getting lost, his motorcycle soon runs out of gas. That's when he meets Ripkuna (Walker) a mysterious wanderer who leads the rest of the treacherous way. During these adventures, the cinematography captures the beautiful wonders of nature--the desert, the sky, the jungles, and, most often-than-not, the creatures. Duma is very cute and surprisingly intelligent and kind--he even saves Xan during a fight at school. Ripkuna also brings with him a lively, strange creature that resembles a Mogwai from the movie Gremlins. Besides Walker, who is very complex and surprising, nobody else gives a good performance. The other characters are unmemorable and boring, especially because Xan and his parents are all one-dimensional characters. It's easy to forget that his mother is looking for him throughout his journey, besides the scenes when she hangs up a poster and searches for him in a helicopter. Unfortunately, there's not much realism, such as when Xan survives a fall from a small, yet dangerous waterfall without any bruises. Midpoint during the journey, he realizes that Ripkuna might be trying to lead him to a place where he can sell Duma. The film plays it very safe for kids: there aren't any scenes of predator/prey violence that is usually found in nature. Although the plot feels predictable and contrived, there are enough visually stunning scenes and a strong bond between Duma and Xan to entertain anyone, young and old.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: There's something very uplifting and heartwarming about Xan's quest to set Duma free into the wild. Not only is he bringing Duma back to where he truly belongs, but he is also fulfilling his father's legacy. In an interesting scene, Xan offers Ripkuna money for his kindness, but he refuses to take it because it causes evil and even war. Nonetheless, he accepts it before Xan throws it into the river. Later, they both end up burning it, which sends a powerful message about how there are more important things in life. Money for Ripkuna is, in many ways, like a bottle of Coke for the Bushmen of the Kalahari in The Gods Must Be Crazy--a far more insightful and enlightening film.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: Predictable and contrived plot.


THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite a predictable and unsurprising plot, the cinematography of South African nature is beautiful along with some lively--and dangerous--creatures. Duma is the real star of this adorable and pleasant film. RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)

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