REVIEW: The Jewel of the Nile (1985)

jewelnile_posterThe runaway success of Romancing the Stone led 20th Century Fox and producer/star Michael Douglas to move quickly on a sequel, and true to their intentions The Jewel of the Nile hit cinemas in the USA just 21 months after its predecessor. All it took was a truncated production schedule, dumping the original’s screenwriter and director, and threatening to sue Kathleen Turner for US$25 million if she didn’t immediately drop out of comedy The Money Pit and start shooting in Morocco instead.

A year after their adventure in Colombia, romance between Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) and Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) is beginning to fray around the edges. When she accepts an offer to ghost-write a powerful North African leader’s memoir, Jack seems tempted to go his own way – until he discovers the leader is actually a violent dictator who has stolen his people’s most sacred object – the mysterious “Jewel of the Nile”.

The Jewel of the Nile has a reputation of being a dreadful sequel. That reputation is not entirely earned. It is true that it is nowhere near as fresh and vital as the original film, and the returning characters are thinly redrawn towards parody. The dialogue lacks the sparkle of Romancing the Stone creator Diane Thomas; when she upped her fee to write the sequel, it was Douglas who dropped her from the film and hired Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Connor instead. They deliver something that does at least provide a contrast to the first film – a new setting, a different goal, a fresh plot – while failing to deliver the humour that made Romancing the Stone so popular.

The result is the sort of movie where reasonable viewers half-heartedly mutter that the film is fine. It is not unwatchable, and it does sporadically hit the charm of the first film while comprehensively removing any likelihood of a third instalment. It is a pesky sort of sequel, not so bad that one reviles it for good but sadly just good enough that once a decade or so you will find yourself giving it another chance and wasting another two hours finding out that no, it really is simple mediocre entertainment. Lewis Teague, who replaces Robert Zemeckis as director (Zemeckis was off directing Back to the Future), does not demonstrate an affinity or talent for action. There is no drive in this sequel. It visibly runs through the motions, and then expects a healthy box office in return.

In its defence, The Jewel of the Nile suffered a particularly difficult shoot: a plane crash killed the film’s production designer and production manager. Diane Thomas herself died in a car crash before its release. The hot desert shoot pleased no one, while Lewis Teague’s inexperience in shooting action put him on a collision course with his exasperated producer/star. The end result, however, is all that is left of those troubles. It simply is not quite good enough for the time spent in watching it.

The racial stereotypes that marred Romancing the Stone are even more pronounced in The Jewel of the Nile – particularly the odd arrival of a North African tribe during the film’s second act. Colton, who seemed so at ease and comfortable in Colombia, now feels like an archetypal “ugly American” in North Africa. Really the only proper joy to be found in the film is Danny DeVito as Ralph. His role was limited in Romance the Stone, and he feels badly shoe-horned into The Jewel of the Nile. He gives it his all, though. A consummate professional, he takes a pointless supporting part and makes it fun to watch.

One actor, sadly, cannot carry an entire film. Everybody else looks like they’d rather be anywhere but on the screen.

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