If you close your eyes tight and concentrate really hard, you can just about picture a time when Michael Douglas had a career beyond that of being “that old guy Catherine Zeta Jones is married to,” Danny DeVito had a virtually unblemished comedic record, and Kathleen Turner was just about the hottest thing on two legs. Now…open your eyes and prepare to be welcomed back to the era of “Romancing the Stone.”
Oh, yes, and although it’s standing several paces back, don’t forget about its not-all-that-bad sequel, “The Jewel of the Nile.”
“Stone” (Five stars) was verging on perfection, an action comedy that borrowed from several different flicks without blatantly ripping any of them off. Written by first-time screenwriter Diane Thomas, it explored the premise of a romance novelist getting caught up in an adventure that’s right out of one of her books. Writer Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) tends to live in a vacuum, writing her novels but rarely venturing into the real world if she can help it; she’s thrown abruptly out of her isolated existence, however, when her sister is kidnapped and her captors demand that Joan bring a treasure map to their location in Colombia. While en route, Joan gets turned around – thanks to the evil Zolo (Manuel Ojeda) – and, in the process, ends up meeting man-about-the-jungle Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), who’s not above helping a pretty lady if it’ll earn him a buck or two. (By that description, it may not surprise you to hear that Colton proves to be the best semi-hero to appear on film since the debut of Han Solo.)
Douglas’s performance as Colton single-handedly turned him from being a grade-B actor turned producer into a full-fledged movie star, while Turner’s sweaty scenes in the jungle did as much to turn her into a sex symbol as anything she did in “Body Heat.” She might be a few pounds above her fighting weight these days, but in that torn skirt and wet blouse…? She was Hotsy McTotsy, my friend. Danny DeVito doesn’t get to share the screen much with Douglas and Turner, but as small-time hood Ralph, he still managed to score a long-term career by getting most of the film’s funniest lines. (The absolute funniest, however, remains Douglas’s seemingly-legitimate shock as he reads through an old copy of “Rolling Stone” and yells, “Dammit, man, the Doobie Brothers broke up! Shit!”)
“The Jewel of the Nile” (3 stars), however, always felt a bit too hurried…possibly because it came out only a year after “Romancing the Stone.” Whereas “Stone” found its humor and drama from one situation – Joan trying to find her sister – the plot of “Jewel” is way too convoluted, moving from one action sequence to another. The chemistry between Douglas and Turner remains intact, which keeps it imminently watchable throughout, but DeVito’s character has basically been shoehorned into the flick, and you can’t help but think that spending a little more time on the script and not just trying to strike while the commercial iron was hot would’ve done wonders for the film. (The making-of documentary on the DVD makes it pretty clear that the cast didn’t exactly love the experience of making the sequel, either.)
Both these films are available separately, but the two-pack Fox is offering is clearly the way to go; after all, if you’re gonna get one, you might as well get the other. You might not enjoy “Jewel” as much as “Stone,” but you’ll still enjoy it.
Both films have been tricked out with a decent amount of features, with each containing new reminiscences from the primary trio of Douglas, Turner, and DeVito; Lewis Teague gladly discusses “The Jewel of the Nile”…but there’s no sign of Robert Zemeckis in anything but archival footage. I know he’s racked up quite a few credits since then, but surely he’s not embarrassed by “Stone”; strange that he couldn’t spare a few minutes. The “Stone” DVD has a nice featurette about the film’s late screenwriter, Diane Thomas, along with a few deleted scenes and a separate featurette where Douglas – who also served as producer – to offer more memories of the experience. The “Adventures of a Romance Novelist” doc on the “Jewel” DVD isn’t much, but the set makes up for it by having audio commentary from Teague.