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Friday Film Review: Romancing the Stone

Romancing the Stone (1984)
Genre: Romance/Action
Grade: B+

Way back in the mists of time when I first saw this movie with my college friends, we loved it immediately. Over the intervening 26 years, it’s lost none of its charm for me. Though the sequel is humdrum forgettable, the original is something to see if you haven’t already.

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a NYC based romance novelist (!) who writes best sellers set in the old west featuring Angelina and her beloved hero, Jessie. Wilder lives in hope that one day she’ll meet her special someone but in the meantime, she’ll celebrate finishing her latest book with her beloved cat Romeo. But her beige existence is about to be kicked into overdrive when her widowed sister in Colombia (Mary Ellen Trainor) is kidnapped by two cousins (Danny DeVito and Zack Norman) who are after a treasure map mailed to Joan by Eileen’s husband before he was murdered.

Though terrified of travel, Joan heads off to Colombia where she boards the wrong bus and gets stranded in the countryside with a sinister character, Zolo, (Manuel Ojeda) who is also after the map. It’s then that shady entrepreneur Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) comes to her rescue and agrees (for $375 in American Express Travelers Checks) to help her get to Cartegena. But with the cousins plus Zolo and his private henchmen after them, will Joan and Jack be able to find the treasure of the map, save Elaine and realize their growing romance which is straight out of one of Joan’s novels?

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From the music of the opening credits (after the prologue during which we see the ending scenes of Joan’s newest novel), I could tell this one was going to be a fun trip. Joan is so bland and buttoned up that she just has to break free and go wild before the end – which she does. One thing I really like about this film is that Joan grows in confidence and she does most of it on her own. Yes, Jack initially saves her from Zolo and keeps her going in the jungle but she gets stronger through her own actions and ends up saving herself and Elaine. She also realizes that Jack is not the dream hero of her books, as she initially wanted him to be, and accepts him – warts and all. Turner was at the height of her sexiness in 1984 yet manages to make me believe in her little mouse persona before blossoming into the woman who takes Jack’s breath away.

Meanwhile, Jack’s character begins as someone in it for himself and what he can get from Joan. Sure he holds off Zolo and Co. with dashing hero verve – well, except when he slams into the opposite side of a canyon as they’re escaping – but he’s actually an anti-hero who morphs into someone worthy of Joan. I can see him falling for her as the film progresses and his final gesture is worthy of a romance book hero. Douglas manages to make Jack charming and sexy before showing us that he’s smitten and trying to be a better man for his heroine.

Danny DeVito steals almost every scene he’s in as the crook forced to trail the duo through “this third world toilet” while also trying to avoid Zolo and the local cops who’d probably give him a “close encounter with a cattle prod” if they realized who he is. The other supporting actors are fine but definitely supporting these three. Of them all, Alfonso Arau as Juan the drug dealer who reads all of Juanita Wilder’s books to his cronies, is perhaps the funniest.

The movie is almost nonstop fun and action – the mudslide down the mountain ought to be a ride at Universal Studios as well as vine swinging across the river ravine. The cast appears to be having a ball in it. If you want to just kick back and bask in light and effortless entertainment, there aren’t many pictures which are better at it.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

31 Comments

  1. Kim in Hawaii
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 04:40:13

    Aloha! This would be a great flick to watch as we wait to see if the tsunami hitss. Hawaii set the alarms off at 10 pm (3 am EST) and has evacuated low lying areas. I do know of two romance authors who are vacationing on other islands. My thoughts are with them as they probably had to leave their hotel for a shelter.

    Of course our thoughts are also with those in Japan.

  2. L.A.D.
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 07:12:02

    I adore this movie. Is it in this one or the sequel where she dances around the fire and Michael Douglas is all starry eyed about it?

    I really liked the two of them together. The two of them and Danny DeVito are all in War Of The Roses together also, right? Am I just pulling that out of nowhere?

  3. Jane Davitt
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 07:13:20

    I adored this film as a teenager and bought the tie-in novel(s), too. The humor of the start as the book heroine’s list of grievances against the villain goes from the big to the ridiculously petty always makes me smile and the two leads really had so much chemistry together.

    Now I want to watch it again.

  4. MicheleKS
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 07:25:25

    I had a copy of the tie-in novel but it got lost and now I’m going to see if I can find a copy. I have the 25th anniversary dvd and will probably watch it this weekend. And Joan Wilder is a self-rescuing princess/heroine (saw a t-shirt that said ‘self-rescuing princess’ on it and have been on the lookout for those heroines ever since).

  5. Angela
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 07:44:48

    I love this movie. I pull it out and watch it at least once a year. The sly humor, subtlety of some of the characters actions, and the great acting make it fun to watch every time.

    I think I’ll watch it again this weekend now.

  6. Sabrina H
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 07:55:22

    I love this movie. I especially love how it “reads” like a romance novel. I can totally see a book with this plot going on my keeper shelf (where this DVD is).

  7. Janet P.
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 07:57:31

    Yay! Netflix Streaming!!!!! LOL

  8. Jayne
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 08:06:43

    @L.A.D.: Yes, the three of them were in that movie. I think DeVito was a lawyer, maybe?

  9. Jayne
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 08:11:02

    @MicheleKS: Ah, tie in novels. Do they still make those for movies today?

  10. Jayne
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 08:12:41

    @MicheleKS: “And Joan Wilder is a self-rescuing princess/heroine (saw a t-shirt that said ‘self-rescuing princess' on it and have been on the lookout for those heroines ever since).”

    – love those type of heroines!

  11. Lesley-Ann
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 08:30:34

    @Jane Davitt:
    I had the tie-in book (or was there two I can’t remember) but I did remember the original book fell apart due to re-reads. Well I had it for years, I was a teenager at the time the film/book was released and just realise that it’s been years since I saw the film itself.

    Haven’t seen it since years back – pre DVD age – when I had it recorded off TV.

    Hmm … on my shopping list sometime in the future I suppose. That just keeps getting longer and longer, pity my bank balance didn’t grow as quickly.

    Fact that I wan’t to grow up to me a romance novelist at the time probably means that I connected with the heroine. That said first time I came across Danny DeVito and he really stole the show here.

  12. Lesley-Ann
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 08:32:46

    Sorry I meant to say the “fact that I wanted to grow up to be a romance novelist”. Always mess up something when speed typing!!

  13. karen wester newton
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 08:42:31

    When the local warlord hears Joan’s name and says, “You’re Joan Wilder?” it was just about the funniest scene in the movie.

    I don’t remember the writer’s name, but I went to a plotting workshop at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference that used this movie to illustrate plotting principles because it was one so many people had seen.

  14. MicheleKS
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 09:18:38

    @Jayne- I just got a copy of the original tie-in novel on eBay. There are several listed in good condition for reasonable prices. And I love tie-in novels because a lot of them have scenes that weren’t in the movie and also background details.

  15. Susanna Kearsley
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 09:51:57

    Jayne, once again we’re in perfect agreement, here. And this time, you’ve hit on my favourite of favourites.

    Way back in my pre-published days, when I wanted so badly to do what I’m doing right now, I used to watch that opening bit where Joan is lighting the fire and toasting her hero with her brandy snifter and think to myself, I want THAT. The apartment, the cat, the framed covers on the walls, the tiny booze bottles…I want all of that!

    This was always my go-to feel-good movie, whenver I’d had a rotten day or rotten things were happening, and it still works like magic.

    It’s a good thing DVDs don’t wear out easily..:-)

  16. jody
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 10:09:15

    Love this movie!

    @Kim in Hawaii:

    Hats off to your courage in commenting on this blog even as you’re waiting for the tsunami!

    I fell in love with Hawaii and her peoople last month on my first visit, and hope and pray the damage isn’t as terrible as predicted.

  17. Jayne
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 10:15:30

    @Susanna Kearsley: I love her apartment – especially that fireplace – and her little booze bottles.

  18. Jayne
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 10:25:47

    @MicheleKS: Oof, that is such a 1980s Avon cover! Complete with the big flower in the foreground and the improbable pose. ;)

  19. Jayne
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 10:32:11

    @karen wester newton: I love watching Jack reading the novel Juan gives him (“Take one. I have many copies.”) and seeing that Joan might not initially be great at hacking her way through the jungle but she is famous and good at what she does. And remember the name he gives his boat!

  20. Zoe Archer
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 11:01:50

    Not a surprise that I love this film, given my own choice of subject matter.

    Love, love, love adventure stories. LOVE!

  21. Sharron McClellan
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 11:05:59

    I told a guy at work that I wrote romance novels and when he asked what kind I used this as an example. His comment? “THE Joan Wilder? The romance novelist?” I cracked up. I LOVE that this movie is still quoted by random people.

  22. Donna Lea Simpson
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 11:09:49

    “Joan Wilder? THE Joan Wilder?”

    Love this, and many other lines through the movie, like when Jack realizes the Doobie brothers broke up… years ago. Funny!

    Best depiction of a romance novelist EVER!

  23. Jaci Burton
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 12:36:41

    I’ve watched this movie so many times. SO many times. I can quote damn near every passage of dialogue and hear the characters’ voices in my head. And I wanted to be Joan Wilder so badly back before I became an author. She lived the adventure I wanted to live.

    Of course reality is never as much fun, but oh, this movie is.

    Time for a rewatch! Thanks for reminding me.

  24. Jane Davitt
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 16:22:11

    @Lesley-Ann: Yes, there were two and I’m about to reread them right now after pulling them down off my library shelf. Catherine Lanigan actually wrote them but it’s making me smile that they’re by Joan Wilder on the cover; reminds me of the Rchard Castle books that’re out now to tie in with the TV show.

  25. Estara
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 16:47:50

    Oh yes, this was perfect! It took all the tropes and made them work. I still adore the yacht scene – which really works best on the big screen, because the ship is so huge.

    And even the Billy Ocean video with Douglas, Turner and DeVito made that 80s pop classic really something special ^^

    o/ When the going gets tough,
    the tough get going…

  26. Janine
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 18:02:26

    My husband and I watched this a couple of weeks ago and had a blast. It was still as funny and charming as I remembered, and stands the test of time. I agree with the B+ grade.

    Re. the tie-in novel, I got it out of the library when I was a teen but I remember feeling that it wasn’t as good as the film.

  27. Janet Mullany
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 18:16:27

    The only thing I can remember about this movie was that Michael Douglas was vaguely hot and that Kathleen Turner spent a lot of time hanging upside down or in other dangerous and unusual positions and miraculously did not flash her panties once. I envied her.

  28. Angie
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 19:45:20

    Hee, this was great! And yeah, the best bit was when the drug dealer boss was all, “Joan Wilder? THE Joan Wilder?!” And what I loved about it as a writer was that they totally set it up at the beginning of the movie when Joan’s agent told her that her books were very popular down in those macho countries, so it wasn’t even something pulled out of the air when the characters were in a tight spot. Definite props for that. :D

    Angie

  29. Sirisha
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 06:13:19

    I love this movie even though its a little before my time! i must say though, that i enjoyed the sequel much better (Jewel of the Nile)

  30. Lizzy
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 18:08:02

    Oh, my gosh. Not to be a terror, but how could you give this movie only a B+? It is A+ romance comedy perfection, the kind of movie they “don’t make anymore.” My husband and I can recite the whole damn film. (He loves Joan’s “You’re a mondo dismo!!”) We love it — it’s truly fantastic. My two cents only, of course, but consider this:

    Joan: “You’re the best time I’ve ever had.”
    Jack: “I’ve never been anybody’s best time.”

    Oi, it burns.

  31. Jayne
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 20:57:04

    @Lizzy: LOL, I had completely forgotten to mention mondo dismo. Thank you for bringing that one up. It’s a classic!

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