In a country where the jungle is as dense and wild as the locals’ eyebrows, one woman must put aside her motion sickness to save her sister from Danny DeVito’s cousin. I kid you not, this is a real movie. 1984’s Romancing the Stone knew its audience well and perfectly swirls an idea that’s half chiseled romance novel and half corrupt Colombian adventure.The end product is an exotic cocktail that mixes tiny umbrellas with BBQ snake. To top it all off, every bullet makes a delightful 80’s “piew – ping” noise on everything from the cars, to the rocks, to the rainforest leaves. It’s the perfect soundtrack to accompany a perfect Jaws-style soundtrack.
Jump to the Wild West where the desert is populated by slow-moving scoundrels and handsome men on horseback who wait atop canyon perches to rescue the spirited damsel at the perfect moment. She leaps into his arms and the author, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), cries over her typewriter at the completion of her latest romantic masterpiece. This calls for a rowdy celebration of minibar liquor, a flannel nightgown, and snuggles with the cat. Bliss. Far, far away in Colombia, Joan’s sister is having a different sort of day, what with being kidnapped and held for ransom. Villains Ira (Zack Norman) and Ralph (Danny DeVito) contact Joan and ask her to deliver a very special treasure map to their hideout in exchange for her sister’s life. Joan jumps on a plane, drags her suitcase onto a bus, and ends up stranded in the jungle with a shady man (literally shady) waving a gun at her. Welcome to Colombia! What Joan needs is a hero. Thankfully, right at that moment, the fluently English Jack (Michael Douglas) happens to be perched on a damsel-saving cliff nearby. Jack agrees – for a handsome fee – to help Joan navigate the jungle to reach the phone on the other side. Their journey isn’t a totally smooth one, given the procession of kidnapper, crooked general, and occasional drug lord that follow in their wake like Captain Hook’s crocodile.
Jack and Joan fall down a hill and get tangled in her best romance novel ever. With highlights in his wavy blonde locks and bell-bottoms that say come hither, how could Joan resist? Still, he isn’t perfect; Jack’s selfish default button and obsession with quick cash throw one or two ice cubes on the sizzle. But these flaws are relatively easy to amend, especially for a hopeful romantic like Joan. Her skirt tears perfectly to free just the right amount of scandalous leg, which Jack has a habit of accidentally tumbling into. This couple was meant to fall in love, whether he wore the V-neck blouse or not. Jack’s solo lifestyle makes him conveniently transportable with space for a charming companion, should the perfect one come along. It’s like he parked his truck full of exotic birds in the path of Joan’s distracted bus driver on purpose. Such a tease.
As embraceable as this couple is, Romancing the Stone still needs a mission and a villain. No, that won’t do – let’s give it two of each! The plan to deliver the map to the kidnappers and release Joan’s sister is swiftly exchanged for the better plan of following the map themselves and digging up the treasure. This way when the kidnappers take the map and hand over the sister, Joan can wave the recovered treasure at them and say… you suck, peace out? I’m not convinced that Joan gave much thought to Step 3. Jack said recovering the treasure was a good idea and suddenly it became an undeniably good idea. No idea ever sounded better.
While the villainous kidnapper, Ira, patiently watches Joan’s utterly useless sister, Ralph marches across the country in search of the lost Joan so that he can steal the map she plans to hand-deliver to his doorstep in two days. But that’s not all. Romancing the Stone needs another criminal layer of complication to be whole, and this one comes dressed as a shadowy figure from the detachment of shadowy figures. The law is left on its own for a few days as Zolo (Manuel Ojeda) and his battalion snap at Joan’s heals trying to get the map first. Not sure how they heard about the map in the first place, or how they keep finding two people that fell completely off the grid, or how the map survives two swims, a mudslide, and a drunk man reading it over an open flame… but it moves the plot forward and I guess that’s what we’re here for.
There are a lot of little laughs in Romancing the Stone, mostly thanks to the unexpected. The stereotypes are culturally inappropriate/fun, but they’re always standing just left of the scene’s focus. Like the full-bodied Colombian woman that kicks Danny DeVito’s ass for being a little sneak. Jack and Joan’s romantic dance is the purpose of the scene, but the fight is what I stayed for. Romancing the Stone has a lot of shotguns, crocodiles, and Joan clutching her purse while winning the hearts of rugged saviours and crazy drug lords alike. It’s fun and campy with so many 80’s cinema motifs it might as well be adaptable to the arcade. Romancing the Stone is a cute 7/10.