Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Romancing the Stone - 1984

"Romancing the Stone" - 1984
Dir. by Robert Zemeckis - 1 hr. 46 min.

Official Trailer

I hate to admit it, but pretty much everything I know about Columbia comes from this movie and every other movie based around cocaine in the 80's and 90's.  I know that doesn't help anyone to know that, but there it is.  Watching "Romancing the Stone" again as an adult (I watched it several times as a kid, but haven't watched it in many years), I was struck that while I clearly remember it as a comedy, that's really the last description in a string of hyphenates.

Kathleen Turner plays the successful romance writer Joan Wilder (although not nearly as successful in her love life), and is forced to bring a treasure map to Columbia in order to rescue her sister from her kidnappers.  Along the way, she runs into trouble, which necessitates her hiring Michael Douglas' character, Jack T. Colton, to get to where she needs to go.  The foreign terrain serves as a scenic backdrop to the budding romance between Joan and Jack.  There's also an action-adventure element, as there are a couple of dangerous, competing forces trying to get ahold of Joan and her map.  For a romance, Jack and Joan get shot at an awful lot.  For an action-adventure film, they rarely seem to be in any real trouble.  For a movie set in Columbia, there's a pretty gaping hole where their most famous national product ought to be (the only drug use is sort of implied - in an abandoned aircraft in the jungle, they use bales of marijuana as fuel for the fire that keeps them warm, meanwhile drinking and inhaling deeply).  For a comedy, there aren't that many funny moments.  But put together, it's a pleasant, even genial film.

What holds it back from being any more than that is that the directing isn't particularly any good.  I'm forgiving of the fact time tends to dull all but the sharpest comedy, but I found myself getting overly frustrated while watching this film that Robert Zemeckis seemed completely incapable of wringing any sense of suspense or drama out of anything at this point.  Scenes that ought to be dramatic aren't, instead things just happen with no build-up whatsoever.  An example of this would be the scene where Joan and Jack find a village, end up getting followed through town by lowlifes, and held up at gunpoint by the village bell-maker, all before it flips and the bell-maker realizes that she is in fact that Joan Wilder, of whom he is a big fan.  The lowlifes aren't all that threatening, and the bell-maker (Juan, played by Alfonso Arau) comes off more like Yakov Smirnov than anything.  Zemeckis doesn't raise the tension at any point, these things just occur, flatly.  Even when the characters are shot at, the gunfire sounds are comically cheesy.  The pleasant and likable nature of the characters and story are continually undercut by the director milking the absolute least out of any given scene.

I did laugh out loud at the end scene, a typically bizarre setting  for an 80's comedy.  How can you explain a couple making out atop a boat on a trailer on a downtown New York City street, being mysteriously driven off into the horizon by some unknown person?  Who cares, it's totally awesome!  I want to do that now.  While I was expecting something a lot funnier (Danny DeVito, while not exactly wasted, isn't really used to any meaningful effect), it's sometimes useful to shelve your expectations and just enjoy what's there.

3 / 5 - NF Streaming

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