Wednesday 24 June 2015

Movie Review: Romancing The Stone (1984)

An action adventure romance, Romancing The Stone carries a lighthearted attitude into a jungle romp and emerges with plenty to smile about.

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a New York-based best-selling author of soapy romances. Lonely and timid, Joan's quiet life could not be more different than Angelina's, the resourceful and fearless heroine of her books, but she still aspires to find the perfect chivalrous husband.

One day Joan receives a mysterious package in the mail containing an arcane map. In Colombia, Joan's brother-in-law is killed by thugs working for the brutal Colonel Zolo (Manuel Ojeda), who is looking for the map. Meanwhile, in Cartagena Joan's sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) is kidnapped by treasure-hunting cousins Ralph (Danny DeVito) and Ira (Zack Norman). Joan has to travel to Colombia to exchange the map for Elaine's freedom.

From the moment Joan steps off the plane she is in a lot of trouble, boarding the wrong bus, heading in the wrong direction, and being pursued by both Zolo and Ralph. Stranded in the remote mountains and about to be harmed by Zolo, Joan is rescued by Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas), a mysterious and somewhat conceited adventurer. Joan buys Jack's services to escort her to Cartagena, but there are plenty of wild adventures to be had avoiding bad guys and discovering clues to the buried treasure before Joan can try and save Elaine's life.

With Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) having revived the old-fashioned thrill-a-minute adventure genre, Romancing The Stone arrived just in time to take full advantage, although the script was actually written by waitress Diane Thomas before Raiders ever hit the screens. With his career in a bit of a lull Douglas took on production duties and appointed relative unknown Robert Zemeckis to direct. The film sparkles with a sense of fun and boasts an attitude that straddles a fine line between irreverent and sincere. Romancing The Stone rides the wave of Turner's sultry sex appeal, Douglas' suddenly re-emergent leading man status, and Danny DeVito's comic relief.

The script lacks a sharp wit and dry edge, instead focusing on a more feminine perspective as Joan breaks out of a self-imposed shell to find her risk-taking spirit. In the bargain she discovers passion with Jack, and Romancing The Stone works because of the surprisingly good attraction between the novelist uncovering her wild side and the maverick learning that it feels good to have a companion.

Zemeckis keeps the action hopping in the Colombia jungle (actual filming took place in Mexico), but with a notable over-reliance on routine chase-and-shoot scenes, with almost all bullets missing their target. Ojeda as Zolo makes for an effective if utterly cartoonish villain, and DeVito establishes his credentials as a bumbling sidekick riding his luck with a greedy reach exceeding his capabilities.

Romancing The Stone does not necessarily offer much that is new, but it delivers on its simple promises with a toothy crocodile smile.

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