The Jewel of the Nile

November 25, 2011

“How much romance can one woman take?” asks the romance novelist Joan Wilder, at the opening of The Jewel of the Nile. Joan (Kathleen Turner), you will remember, was the frumpy writer swept into the swashbuckling adventure of Romancing the Stone, a tale that might have sprung from the purply pages she regularly churns out.

As Jewel begins, she’s in the South of France, having spent six months cruising the world and finding romance with he-man adventurer Jack Colton (Michael Douglas). But with all this romancing going on, she can’t find the time to finish her latest book, and her fling with Jack has gone a trifle stale.

So, when she is approached by a bigshot Arab prince and asked to write his biography, she jumps at the chance, and abandons Jack for the prince’s palace. You win no prizes for guessing that the prince is not as he seems, and that something is rotten in the sheikdom—nor that Jack will soon be on his way to rescue Joan from this fine mess.

That’s the basic skeleton of the story; it’s fleshed out with some amusing incidents along the way, including an escape in an F-16 fighter jet (neither Jack nor Joan know how to fly it) and a tribal wrestling match between Jack and a refrigerator-sized tribesman who wants to marry Joan.

While some of these incidents are cute, the film as a whole lacks the fizz of Romancing the Stone. There’s a basic problem in structure: In Romancing, the transformation of Joan from dowdy novelist to stylish heroine was the real story, despite all the swashbuckling. In Jewel, there’s no such development, and the narrative seems oddly flat.

The dry North African setting gets dull after a while, as does the sheik and his plan to take over the area. Also, the character of Joan is not as much fun as before—she seems dimmer, and has lost pluck.

Some of this flatness, I suspect, is due to the absence of Diane Thomas among the screenwriters. She wrote Romancing as an original screenplay (her first), but others get the credit for this film. (The film is dedicated to Thomas, who was killed in a car accident a few weeks ago.)

Lewis Teague’s direction is evocative; he comes from B-movies (Alligator and The Lady in Red both showed promise), and this is his shot at the big time. He choreographs the action well, especially the obligatory fight-on-top-of-a-train, which ends with a nice comic payoff.

He’s also gotten a better performance from Michael Douglas, and a funnier performance from Danny DeVito, who repeats his role as a sawed-off scoundrel. DeVito has more one-liners than in Romancing, and he spits them out with unclean glee (surveying a wild Bedouin celebration dance, he nudges Jack and growls, “Looka this, Colton—no sheep is safe tonight”).

But, as occasionally pleasant as the film is, I was left cold after it was over. By the time of the big climax, I was already a bit bored. Not only are the characters cardboard and the locale dull, the jewel of the Nile turns out not to be a jewel at all. Whatever happened to truth in advertising?

First published in the Herald, December 15, 1985

Well, not a great review, although I suppose the point about the absence of actual character development goes to something about the movie’s failure to click. Not much to work with, anyway; the movie has the feel of a rushed, not-thought-out cash-in. My review of Romancing the Stone is here.


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