Thursday, November 5, 2015

#1,907. Romancing the Stone (1984)

Directed By: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito

Tag line: "She's a girl from the big city. He's a reckless soldier of fortune. For a fabulous treasure, they share an adventure no one could imagine... or survive"

Trivia: Studio executives were so sure this film would flop that Robert Zemeckis was pre-emptively fired from directing 1985's Cocoon

When Romancing the Stone first hit theaters in 1984, some critics hailed it as the second coming of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and seeing as that Lucas / Spielberg co-production was a favorite of mine, I couldn’t wait to check this flick out. 

Well, Romancing the Stone was not Raiders, but to be honest I didn’t care; it’s an adventure / romance with interesting characters and a whole lot of heart, and I had a great time watching it!

Unlike the heroines in her romance novels, who battle villains and ride off into the sunset with the handsome hero, best-selling author Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) leads a quiet (read: dull) life. That all changes, however, when she receives a package in the mail (sent by her recently murdered brother-in-law) containing an ancient treasure map. 

Moments after opening said package, Joan gets a frantic call from Cartagena, Columbia. It seems her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) has been kidnapped by thieving cousins Ira (Zach Norman) and Ralph (Danny DeVito), and if Joan doesn’t fly the map to Cartagena immediately, she will never see dear 'ole sis again.

But Ira and Ralph aren’t the only two interested in finding that treasure. The ruthless Zolo (Manuel Ojeda), commander of the Columbian secret police, has his eyes on it as well, and when Joan (who gets on the wrong bus after arriving in Columbia) finds herself stranded in the middle of the jungle, Zolo makes his move, pulling a gun and ordering her to hand over the map. 

It’s at this moment that Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), an American expatriate trying to eke out a living in Columbia, happens by. Following a tense shoot-out, Zolo heads for the hills, and Joan, desperate to save her sister, offers Jack $375 in Travelers checks if he will take her to Cartagena. 

Thus begins an exciting adventure, with Jack and Joan battling snakes, the elements, and each other as they make their way through the jungle, one short step ahead of Zolo and his army. And while the abrasive Jack isn’t exactly the man of her dreams, Joan finds herself falling in love with him all the same.

Romancing the Stone is an exciting movie. The entire jungle sequence (where Jack and Joan are pulled into a mudslide, and, a little later, make like Tarzan to escape Zolo) is damned entertaining. And thanks in large part to Danny DeVito’s Ralph, who like Zolo is also tracking our heroes, there’s comedy as well (his angry phone calls to Cousin Ira are hilarious). 

The film’s strongest element, though, is the chemistry that develops between its two leads. As with most cinematic couplings, Joan and Jack have nothing in common at the start. She is an introverted writer from New York City who dreams of adventure yet has never experienced it, while he is a free spirit hoping to scrape enough money together to buy a sailboat and sail it around the world. In the capable hands of Turner and Douglas, the “opposites attract” storyline doesn’t seem quite so cliché. Toss DeVito’s obnoxious kidnapper into the mix and you have three endearing characters you don’t mind hanging out with for a few hours.

In the years that followed Romancing the Stone, Devito, Turner, and Douglas would reunite for two more films: 1985’s The Jewel of the Nile (a sequel to this movie) and the underrated black comedy The War of the Roses. Both of those later films have their strengths, but it’s Romancing the Stone that will absolutely blow you away!

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