Romancing the Stone

Bye, gone era
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
Robert Zemeckis
Starring: 
Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Zack Norman
The Setup: 
Dowdy romance novelist caught up in real-life adventure.
Discussion: 

So my music listening of late has gone completely to Spotify, where any artist of the past can be summoned with the touch of a button, and this has led me to explore the ouvres of such artists as Starbuck, Bob Welch, Argent, The Jets, and, it would hap, Eddy Grant. And to my chagrin, the greatest hits of Eddy Grant is much more enjoyable than I would have guessed. And it contains the would-be theme from this movie, which is catchy but moronic, and it gave me the idea that it might be a hoot to watch this film. Turns out, they commissioned the Grant song but ended up not using it, but he released it anyway. Keen ears can detect perhaps four seconds of the guitar solo playing faintly during one scene.

Another factoid to know is that "romancing the stone" is a jeweler's term for the process of cutting and polishing a gem to bring out its best. I thought, for years and years, that it was just an extremely inane title. Okay, so we open in one of the stories by our heroine, Joan Wilder, which finds a lovely lass in a cabin the the West, with a grimy bad guy demanding to know where the something is, and him making to ravage her, but she whips a knife into his heart. Then she goes outside, but there are more bad guys, but a hero shows up on the crest of a ridge (pay attention to how he shows up) and saves her, and they ride off, knowing they'll be together forever. The footage is somewhat banal, but the narration is actually quite funny. Turns out this is the latest romance novel by Wilder, and she is now revealed to be a lonely cat lady who celebrates by giving her cat (named Romeo) a can of tuna, and dipping into her assembly of tiny airline-sized alcohol. The gets drunk and stares at the poster art for one of her books, which features a large silhouette of a big masculine hero. Pay attention to that, too.

Now she goes to meet her editor, and they go out to a bar where the editor laments that Joan can't find a good man. Soon after, she meets another friend who laments that Joan can't find a good man, and that she's holding out for mister right, but may end up alone. Meanwhile, in Columbia, Joan's sister is walking to a red convertible when this little street kid of about ten whips these rocks at her, steals her car, and drives off with it! That was actually one of the better, most surprising things about the movie. Then there's a mysterious man breaking into Joan's apartment and killing the inquisitive super. When she returns, her place has been ransacked, and we have one of our favorite movie features of the era before PETA gained greater power in Hollywood, which is a cat THROWN at our heroine by someone offscreen, as if it just jumped on her. I have to finally make that definitive list of movies featuring thrown cats.

Anyway, Joan has been sent a treasure map, which looks like it was drawn with ballpoint pen that morning, and soon gets a call from her sister, who has been kidnapped in Columbia, and is being held until Joan gets there with the map. So Joan goes to Columbia, where she is deceptively sent into the interior, not the coast where her sister is. She realizes this and ends up causing the bus to crash, hitting and destroying a parked Jeep. Everyone else walks off, and Joan is menaced by a mustachioed thug in a suit, but who should show up, but Michael Douglas as Jack. You will notice that he appears along a ridge, just like the hero in her novel, and he receives a shot silhouetted against the sky, just like the mystery man in her poster.

Jack's Jeep has been ruined, and he goes through his belongings, looking longingly at a picture of a sailboat that he dreams of getting, and we know instantly what the last shot of this movie will be. Joan says she needs help, he refuses, she offers money, and finally they arrange for him to lead her to a phone. She is wearing heels, and carrying a huge suitcase. He soon throws the suitcase over a ravine, and soon he and Joan are sliding down the sides of the ravine, with his head landing right in her crotch. This scene was in the trailers and every little bit of promotion for this movie. They're getting shot at by the mustache thug and his posse (turns out he is a policeman) and run away, bickering, at which point they end up swinging on vines across a chasm. High adventure, woo hoo.

They come across a crashed plane, where they bunk for the night and get drunk and come to know each other, he learning about her map. There's another madcap chase in the morning. Meanwhile, Danny Devito is showing up every now and then as an emissary of the guy who's got Joan's sister, trying to head the couple off and get the map himself. Honestly, I don't know why I'm even synopsizing the rest of this--nothing interesting happens. They fall in love, blah, blah, they get the treasure, blah, blah, she begins to suspect him, he makes off with the jewel, but comes back to save her in the nick of time. He even gives up the jewel in order to save her. There is a surprising close-up of a freshly-severed limb for a PG movie. All ends well. The last shot is indeed of his sailboat (though perhaps in an unexpected location), and that's it.

This is one of those movies where you think it might be fun to go back and re-watch, then you find out, not long into it, umm, not really. There's not one unexpected thing here. This is what makes it a bit surprising when you watch the little featurette on the screenwriter and hear everyone say how combining action, romance and comedy in this way was wholly new and entirely unique at the time--hard to believe, but that's what they say--and that this was the first action/romance/comedy in the history of the universe, and paved the way for many incredibly banal movies to follow. What is interesting is that this was a script written by a woman who was a waitress at the time, and managed to get read and become the sensation of Hollywood, and she was catapulted to stardom, but died soon after. Douglas apparently gave her a Porsche as gift, and she, who had, in his opinion, an attraction for bad boys just like the character of Joan, let her 27-year-old boyfriend drive it, who got them both killed. Hmm, slightly more interesting than the movie.

The rest of the features paint this movie as essentially on par with Citizen Kane. Watching it again, umm, okay, I can see where it might have been amusing at the time, although I have trouble believing it was such a trailblazing portent of a new dawn of action/comedy/romance (and I was around when it came out and it didn't seem like much of a big deal). It's cute, you know, if you like this sort of thing, and haven't seen it all done to death elsewhere. Which you have. I say let's admire for what it is, and the place it occupies, from afar.

Should you watch it: 

Maybe if you have kids and need something amusing? Other than that, I suspect you have better things to do.