The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
Written by Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner
Directed by Lewis Teague
You don’t hear too many people talk about the 1984 comedy-action film Romancing the Stone. It was the film that set director Robert Zemeckis on his path to helming the Back to the Future series. It was expected to flop and got Zemeckis fired as director of Cocoon, but as we can see, it all turned out in his favor. Romancing the Stone was a box office success, and he proved the studio doubters wrong. Studios want to exploit movies that do well and will always push for a sequel. Romancing the Stone is the type of film that could be a franchise, so on the surface, the idea isn’t bad. However, when all the director has moved on to a more significant project, and the writer dies tragically in a car accident after her career has just begun, it becomes murkier waters.
The Jewel of the Nile finds series protagonists Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) and Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) six months into a yacht trip around the world. Jack is enjoying the laid back life of parties and casinos while Joan struggles to pen her next romance novel. She wants something more serious, and that seems to fall into her lap when Omar Khalifa shows up, an Arab ruler who wants Joan to pen his biography as he unites the tribes of the Nile. This creates a schism between Joan and Jack, and they go their separate ways. Jack gets pulled back into her life when a representative of a tribe who knows the truth about Omar forces his hand to get involved. Meanwhile, Ralph (Danny DeVito), an antagonist from the first film, has hunted down Jack and wants his revenge.
From the start, The Jewel of the Nile was a film the players really didn’t want to make. Michael Douglas was a producer, so he may have been a little more invested, but Kathleen Turner hated the script and found the whole picture to be formulaic. She tried to back out but was threatened with a multi-million dollar lawsuit by 20th Century Fox; however, Douglas stepped in and forced a rewrite to try and smooth things out. Diane Thomas, the screenwriter of the first film, was consulted but she was rightfully asking for a higher payday because of Romancing the Stone’s success. Ultimately, Turner tells the story that she and Douglas sat on the hotel room floor in Morrocco, swapping out pages from three different drafts to come up with a passable script.
You can probably guess from those behind the scenes anecdotes that the movie is not very good. It isn’t. It is not the worst film I’ve seen, but there’s nothing here to compel you to watch it again for fun. The script is over complicated in ways that aren’t fun and end up just feeling muddled and confusing. The humor is very sparse, and most funny bits fall entirely flat. There are a few moments where I genuinely chuckled, but they were not the extended set-pieces, just little lines here or there that an actor delivered with great timing.
You can feel Kathleen Turner is just not interested in doing this movie, and her chemistry with Douglas suffers as a result. Her portrayal of Joan in the previous picture was of a feisty, sharp-witted woman. Here she makes stupid decisions for the sake of plot advancement, which is very transparent. The banter between her and Jack feels equally as dumb, whereas in Romancing the Stone, the main draw of the picture is the battle of the sexes conflict between these two. Replacing that great character-development are big explosions and seemingly endless chase sequences that aren’t paced tightly enough to be fun. DeVito’s Ralph is completely wasted, which is really frustrating because he is such a talented comic actor.
The Jewel of the Nile is a perfect example of what happens when a studio guides the decisions of a movie. You can see a hodgepodge of elements from Indiana Jones and similar fare from the 1980s just tossed in to fill out the runtime. Because the action doesn’t personally connect to the characters, the movie feels like one big formula, focus group, and tested. You have to remember a lot of the suits making these decisions are the same ones that claimed Romancing the Stone would be a failure. This was a series and characters that could have been an ongoing thing in the 1980s and into the 1990s, but it all fizzled out here.