The movie begins with a husband and wife team of scientists investigating a soil with healing powers in Africa. Their young daughter is with them on the journey. While trying to determine the source of the healing powers in a cave, the couple fall victim to a cave-in. Rather than make any attempt to rescue the scientists, the local Zambouli people decide that the young girl is the child told of in a prophecy. Thus, they name her Sheena!
Many years pass and Sheena is raised by the shaman woman (Elizabeth of Toro). The Shaman teaches Sheena (Tanya Roberts) many things, including how to communicate telepathically with the animals and, apparently, how to live in the jungle and still look like a supermodel.
Meanwhile, sports reporter Vic Casey (Ted Wass) and his photographer Fletch (Donovan Scott) have arrived in Tigora (that’s the made-up African nation this whole thing takes place in). They are doing a story on Prince Otwani (Trevor Thomas), the king’s brother and a football champ. Strange that this prince plays American Football rather than the type of Football (soccer) that is usually played in that part of the world. Anyway, it doesn’t matter since what he really wants is to be king. During a dinner party, the king is assassinated with a Zambouli arrow, and the shaman who raised Sheena is framed for the crime. But, Vic and Fletch, have captured on film evidence that proves someone else is responsible.
The two reporters are determined to break this story, so they head to the prison to try to talk with the shaman. Before they can say “Hey, isn’t that one of Charlie’s Angels,” the gorgeous queen of the jungle and her animal friends are busting the shaman out. Now, even more convinced that they’ve hit onto a huge story, the two reporters follow Sheena into the jungle.
By the time they catch up with her, the shaman is now dead. Vic decides to stay with Sheena (well who wouldn’t), and he sends Fletch off with the film to keep it safe. Meanwhile, Otwani gathers up his soldiers, including creepy white-haired guy Jorgensen (John Forgeham), to eliminate the Zambouli so they can get their land. Only Sheena can save them.
How “Sheena” managed to get a PG rating is one of the great mysteries of movie history. I mean, forget that the PG-13 wasn’t available yet…this thing probably should’ve been an R to start with. Don’t get me wrong, most of the film is pretty harmless…the language is minimal and the violence is pretty tame (with exception of a yucky spear through the throat late in the film)…but there is a lot of nudity! Two scenes feature native women dancing around without their sports bras…I figure the MPAA didn’t freak over that in much the same way your local library has no problem leaving the nudity in National Geographic out for the kiddies. But Tanya Roberts has two nude scenes where buns and breasts are visible…and one of them is pretty lengthy. Even when she’s fully clothed (and I use that phrase lightly) the camera is positioned in such a way as to make sure as much flesh is exposed as possible. I’m sure many a Blockbuster employee got chewed out by angry parents after renting this PG-rated jungle adventure for their kids.
The movie does have a level of campiness that makes it somewhat enjoyable if you’re in the right frame of mind. Tanya Roberts’ breathy performance seems to be trying so hard to be serious, but when the scene involves telepathically summoning flamingos to fly into a helicopter and peck the pilot to death…well, there’s no way to take that seriously. The animal action is goofy, and in some ways I wish there was a bit more of it. The final battle, where the Sheena and the Zambouli team up with the animals and go all Ewok on the army by attacking them with spears and rocks, is kind of fun in a weird campy way.
In general, the actors struggle with the over-scripted dialogue. You think Shakespeare is a challenge, try this:
“You will be welcome in Zukuru. The head man’s locust bean cakes, they will be your locust bean cakes. His fermented buffalo milk, will be your fermented buffalo milk.”
I guess I should give some props to Tanya Roberts for being able to say that with a straight face. Instead the film got five Golden Raspberry nominations…including worst screenplay and worst actress for Roberts.
“Sheena” is terrible and a must-see for people who like that sort of thing. Plus, it will always live as a reminder of a day when the MPAA truly were asleep at the wheel.