“What did you do, wake up this morning and say, ‘Today, I’m going to ruin a man’s life’?”
Justin’s rating: Toss me the mascara, I’ll throw you the idol!
Justin’s review: With Raiders of the Lost Ark such a big new property in the ’80s, you knew there had to be movies looking to cash in on that pulp adventure vibe. One of the first of these was 1984’s Romancing the Stone, which seems to ask the question, “What if Indiana Jones was retold from a crazy cat lady’s point of view?” Looking at the poster, I can only imagine how many guys were misled into the theater (or a rental) by thinking that this was going to be an action thrill ride when it is, in all actuality, a Harlequin romance novel brought to life.
So let’s adjust our expectations somewhat. What we have here is really a romcom with an adventure overlay, directed by Back to the Future’s Robert Zemeckis. It’s like someone said, “Temple of Doom was good, but what I really wanted to focus on was the Willie character. Can we make that happen?” So it’s actually well-done for what it is, and BTTF fans are probably going to find elements of this movie eerily familiar.
When romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) gets a phone call telling her that her sister Elaine has been kidnapped by a drug cartel, she finds herself well out of her depth. What to do other than team up with a bird smuggler (just go with it) named Jack Colton. Jack’s our Indy for these two hours, but this time he’s played by a shaggy haired Michael Douglas. I couldn’t really buy him as an action hero back when I first saw this in 1990 and I still can’t today, but I can understand the desire to use your producer clout to shoehorning yourself into such a role.
As long as you’re willing to part ways with any expectations that this is a straight-up Indiana Jones clone, you’ll probably be fine. Turner and Douglas have a good enough rapport together. Jack gets to be the swaggering action dude with the coolest rifle in the world who isn’t always making the best of life choices, and Joan transforms from a sheltered romantic to a seasoned adventurer soon enough. Toss in Danny DeVito as one of the bumbling cartel members, and there’s enough laughs here to make even the most misled moviegoer feel mollified.
There’s always a lot of comedy to be had in taking someone with relatable characteristics and throwing them well out of their depth. I think most of us would be happy to have a guide to take us along on a fun adventure if this ever happened to us, preferably one with whom we would form a close romantic attachment and eventually ride off into the sunset together. And South America is a good enough place for something like this to happen, with plenty of jungle for wild and crazy escapades. I really do like that Joan isn’t the typical hapless love interest who is only there to make the guy look good. Often enough, her bravery and ingenuity take a step out to save the day.
Gradually it’s revealed that this whole kidnapping situation happened due to a mysterious map that Elaine sent to Joan, which results in a mid-movie treasure hunt. With both drug dealers and the secret police chasing them, there’s enough forward momentum to keep the two together and focused on a goal until they fall in sweet, sweet love.
One of my favorite scenes comes when a drug dealer (different one) reveals himself as a big fan of Joan’s books and ends up taking her on a madcap tour around the village whilst avoiding the police and pointing out his childhood spots. By this point, I felt like I was getting into the spirit of the movie and started to feel more favorable toward it.
Romancing the Stone is better-than-average entertainment, perhaps made more interesting for ’80s fans who want to re-experience the surprise hit of 1984.