November 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Those cheap, corny B movies and serials of the ’40s and ’50s are alive and well — sort of. Consider the not-so-cheap Congo, a stale thriller (based on the Michael Crichton novel) that made $81 million at theaters last summer.

A clichéd jumble about a greedy corporation called TraviCom trying to mine fabled blue diamonds from deepest Africa so it can dominate the communications industry, Congo stars Dylan Walsh as a sensitive primatologist and Laura Linney as TraviCom’s telecommunications whiz. Their acting consists mostly of looking good while operating assorted techno-gadgets amid a fake-looking jungle (despite the film’s Costa Rican locations) and unconvincing animatronic primates (alternating with costumed actors) — especially Walsh’s charge, Amy, a supposedly endearing talking ape who’s being returned to the wild. Throw in killer gorillas, a crotch-attacking leech, and a volcano spewing goopy digital lava, and Congo emerges as an update of one of those cheesy old jungle serials like…well, like Jungle Drums of Africa. In this 167-minute epic, two brawny Americans (Clayton Moore and Roy Glenn), working to prevent a uranium mine from falling into foreign hands, encounter a plethora of obstacles, including a witch doctor, hungry lions, tigers, hippos, and a hyena whose ”laugh” sounds suspiciously human. What with the feisty, nicely permed missionary’s daughter (Phyllis Coates, the first — and sexier — Lois Lane on the old Superman TV series), who’s as resourceful as the guys, and her smart pet chimp, it all starts to sound like…Congo.

At least Drums proffers naive, occasionally surreal charm, thanks to stock footage, stiffly delivered lines like ”Oh, Carol, will you ask the natives to take care of that lion?” and a brief shot that reveals a beefy guy in culottes and blond wig stunt-doubling for Coates. Will Congo provide such goofy yuks in 40 years? It should be so lucky. C

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