Raiders of a Lost Art
Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a successful romance novelist living in New York City who has just completed her latest book. She sets out to meet her editor when she is handed a package from her brother-in-law. Inside is a treasure map that reveals the location of a rare gem hidden in Columbia. Joan’s sister, Elaine is being held for ransom by antiquities smugglers and they want to make an exchange for the map.
Joan flies to Colombia to make the exchange when a third party, a high ranking member of the military police, Colonel Zolo, attempts to take the map from Joan. The Colonel is chased off by an American exotic bird smuggler, Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) who interferes with the confrontation by chance.
Joan offers Jack $375 in traveler’s cheques (traveler’s cheques! How ’80s is that????) to get her to a phone so she can reach the smugglers. But when Jack learns her back story, he convinces her to find the treasure instead. That way they can exchange the map for her sister and make away with the gem! But, what they don’t know is one of the smugglers, Ralph (Danny DeVito) is trailing their every move while Colonel Zolo is regrouping with his men. This won’t be easy!
I remember having a lot of fun watching Romancing The Stone and its sequel, Jewel of Nile* when I was a kid. Romancing The Stone certainly lived up to those warm fuzzy memories. The plot is too convenient at times and you need to buy into “Kathleen Turner prime” having difficulty finding love. I mean, Lauren Bacall named her as the “new me” while Michael Douglas, Warren Beatty, and Jack Nicholson were in a competition to be the first to “get her”. Oof, pre-Me Too Hollywood at its finest.
But its minor shortcomings are easy to get past because the movie is dang fun. Both Douglas and Turner have some solid chemistry and DeVito is in his wheelhouse playing (again) the comic relief/weasel (Ebert once compared him to Peter Lorre. Spot on, Roger.) Director Robert ‘Better than Speilberg’ Zemeckis is in his element here too as he nails the tone for the film as it never gets too serious or too silly.
Most surprising to me was how hard this movie pushed Hollywood’s (at the time) brand new PG-13 limit. Cursing, violence, sexual innuendos… the two main characters even get high on the cannabis in an old plane wreck. This new rating was to allow films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which had strong imagery but were light in tone a home. Well, forgive the meme when Romancing the Stone read the boundaries and said, “Hold my beer.”
Since adults rarely go to the theatre now, you’ll never see a blockbuster of this type today. It is either cute like Shazam! or crass like Deadpool. That’s not a knock against either film, just a comment on how quickly the art of making an action/adventure film that is both grounded in some reality and mostly for adults has completely died. At least we can go back and remember how it was.
I know, I know… OK, boomer.
*A quick word on Jewel of the Nile, I badly wanted to recommend both but can’t as it fits the definition of a cash-in sequel. Douglas, Turner, and DeVito return, but the film is weak sauce without Zemeckis or screenwriter Diane Thomas involved. Jack and Joan’s relationship is unexplainably fragile now, Ralph has no place, and the movie awkwardly straddles cultural insensitivity by continuously promoting an ’80s pop-heavy tie in soundtrack with Arabs on camels. *sucks air through teeth*