Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Unnecessary Sequels: Romancing the Stone

Well, it's a brand new year again, 2015, and while there are many things "cooking" for future articles, I figured I'd bust out another of these fancy little deals. The 80s really did seem to be a great decade for films, as it was chock full of great ones in so many different genres (something to be touched upon in a later piece, for sure). One of those great movies, and one of my personal favorite "action/adventure" films, happened to be director Robert Zemeckis' first big hit, before he went on to "Back to the Future" fame, and that was "Romancing the Stone". And while it may be hard to believe, considering what kind of article this is, yes, the sad truth is even a great little movie like this had itself a shitty little sequel.

Movies just don't seem to have great posters anymore. Just silly cast shots.

Film: Romancing the Stone
Year: 1984
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Unnecessary Sequel: The Jewel of the Nile (1985)

So for those unfamiliar, "Romancing" centers around the characters of Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), author of cheesy romance novels, who must travel to Colombia to save her kidnapped sister, and Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas), a fortune hunter she runs across by pure chance out in the Colombian jungles. Seems that Joan's sister Elaine's deceased husband ran afoul of some local military types down in Colombia, and now Joan has to bring a map that was mailed to her address for safe keeping back to Colombia, to the kidnappers, in exchange for her sister. Nice setup, and of course you get the drama and comedy of the fairly clueless social shut-in traveling around such a hostile place all by her lonesome.

Michael Douglas, in arguably his best role. At least to me.

So, the bad guy, Colonel Zolo, tricks her into getting on the wrong bus from the airport, hoping to catch her alone out in the jungle and take the map from her. Lucky for her though, she accidentally causes the bus to crash into someone's jeep on the road, and wouldn't you know it, it belonged to good ol' Jack T. Colton, who happens upon her and the fiendish Zolo. He agrees to escort her back to some kind of civilization so she can use a phone, through promise of money of course. Meanwhile, the kidnapper's cousin, Ralph (played excellently as always by Danny DiVito), is on the road trying to find Joan Wilder, as he was supposed to meet her at the airport before she got on the wrong bus.

Let's be honest, DiVito is great in just about every role he plays.

Long story short, the map she was mailed in New York, turns out to be an old treasure map of sorts, providing (naturally) vague directions to a mysterious treasure known as El Corazon ("The Heart"), which ultimately turns out to be the enormous emerald that you can see Ralph holding in the picture above. All sorts of madcap adventure movie fun ensues, as chasing and shooting and all sorts of comedy and budding romance happens. All around, it's a great film, with a lot going for it, and it really is one of those "something for everybody" type of movies. If I were to make a "Top 20 movies of the 80s" list, there is a very strong chance "Romancing the Stone" would be on it, because I like it that much. And that's rough, trust me, because the 80s had some GREAT fuckin' movies. However.....

This was sadly not one of them.

As seems to be a naturally recurring theme in these articles, the totally unneeded, unwanted, unnecessary sequel that 20th Century Fox pooped out just wasn't....very good. For one thing, it was rushed, coming out just over a year and a half after the first. For another, none of the principle actors REALLY wanted to do a sequel, and rightly so, as "Romancing" stands by itself, like all the movies in these articles, as perfectly good, self-contained stories. The fact that they didn't want to do it shows, as there's just something "off" throughout the film, and Kathleen Turner even tried to refuse doing the sequel, only to come back and do it after being being legally threatened over contract by the studio. Not a great recipe for anything good, really.

To top it all off, Zemeckis didn't direct, for one because he probably didn't want to, and for another because he was far too busy making the AWESOME "Back to the Future". Instead, Lewis Teague, who had just come fresh off of success with two back to back Stephen King adaptations, "Cujo" and "Cat's Eye", was hired to direct. Not that it was Lewis' fault, but it was just another detracting element. All in all, the whole film just comes off as rather uninspired, and (duh) unnecessary. It doesn't even have the kind of entertainment value and "what are these characters up to now?" value that, say, "Gremlins 2" had. Yes, you do get to see what Jack and Joan are up to now, it's just that their portrayal in this is less that great, and often comes off as a bunch of annoying "couples drama", whereas the first film left us (happily) with a more romantic "ride off together into the blue" type of feeling. Then of course Ralph, DiVito's character, randomly finds himself in Egypt, so that he can have an excuse to take part in the plot, just to be comedic relief. All in all, the plot itself isn't even really that interesting enough to get into, and if you really care, there's always Wikipedia.

Bottom line, just another wasted, pointless sequel that was rushed into production to cash in on success, trying to make more money. Every ONCE in awhile, even though they still shouldn't happen, those kind of sequels work somehow, and wind up being okay. But I find that more often than not, they really don't. And this was no different. So if you've never seen "Romancing the Stone", I'd highly suggest watching it. It's grand entertainment, and has all the greatest markings of that "80s flair". But you are better off not bothering with "Jewel"....because you're not going to be missing anything, and it might actually even detract from your enjoyment of the first. Cheers.