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When I read in the early 80's that Michael Douglas was producing as well as starring in a movie titled "Romancing the Stone", my reaction was, "What the hell does that mean?" Well, the stone is a Columbian emerald bigger than the rock that Richard Burton once slipped on Liz Taylor's finger. Kathleen Turner plays romance novelist Joan Wilder, who gets to live out an adventure just like one of her heroines when she comes into possession of a map detailing the precious gem's location. Along the way several characters try to steal the map to get the stone. One thief accuses Douglas' character of trying to "romance" the stone away from her. Got it? Oh, and the 1984 film is classed as a romantic comedy.

What a complete turnaround for Turner as the dowdy Joan from her role as Mattie Walker in Body Heat. Without makeup the incredibly sexy woman that made William Hurt commit murder doesn't look much better than I do, and she's about as alluring as Edith Bunker. Aren't romance novelists supposed to be glamorous at all times? But she pulls it off. The point is that Turner's versatility as an actress is without question.

At the film's beginning you would think it was a Western spoof like "Blazing Saddles". (This same technique was used in Rising Sun.) A female voice narrates, and the dialogue is so hokey. A beautiful girl named Angelina kills a man about to rape her, then his gang comes looking for revenge: "If there's one law of the west it's 'bastards have brothers'." Suddenly over the hill appears a handsome cowboy "..my beloved JESSE" who rescues her. As they embrace in the sunset she declares, "I knew then that we would spend the rest of our lives together. Forever." The camera cuts to a sobbing blubbering plain-Jane in a modern-day apartment typing "The End" to her latest novel. Around the apartment are various writing awards and publishers' promotional items, including a lifesize cardboard cutout of the fictional Jesse. But the only one she has to celebrate with (in knee socks and ratty bathrobe) is her cat, Romeo. Not that her neighbors and publisher haven't tried to fix her up with men. She's just a hopeless romantic. She prefers to call herself a hope-ful romantic: "I know there's someone out there for me," she insists. "What's wrong with that one, Joan?" her exasperated publisher demands, "He's not Jesse? You're waiting for somebody who's never going to show up!"

She returns from her meeting with the publisher to find a ransacked apartment and an envelope with a map inside from her late brother-in-law, whose body had been found in tiny pieces in Cartagena, Colombia. The scene shifts to Colombia where her sister Elaine(MARY ELLEN TRAINOR, who looks more like the romance novelist)is trying to make a fast getaway when she is lassoed (literally) by a ten-year-old accomplice to some New York kidnappers who found out about the map. At knifepoint she frantically phones Joan and begs her to bring it to Cartagena. Ira (ZACK NORMAN)wants to trade Joan her sister for the map. Ralph (a hilarious DANNY DEVITO) has a bad feeling about the whole affair: "Let's kiss off this third-world toilet. We've stolen enough antique trinkets to live comfortably for life."

When Joan arrives in Colombia she takes the wrong bus, thanks to Zolo(MANUEL OJEDA), a member of the Colombian Secret Police, who is also after the treasure. The comic adventures begin when she causes a bus accident and meets a real live 'Jesse' named Jack T. Colton (DOUGLAS).

Since his days as Louie DePalma on the TV sitcom "TAXI", DEVITO always seems to play the same character in movies..a coward who's mean-spirited on the outside..but it works! When he finds himself in Zolo's prison: "Ira, you've got us in some deep shit...I'm about to have a close encounter with a cattle prod. Why don't you just take me back to Queens and kill me?"

My favorite scene in the movie is Joan's initial encounter with Jack. There is even more witty dialogue between Turner and Douglas here(who is brilliant as usual)than between Ira and Ralph. Douglas agrees to lead her to a telephone if she'll pay him. "Will you take traveller's checks?" she asks. "American Express? It's a deal." He lets her clomp along for miles in the jungle in spike heels, then wacks the heels off with a brush saw. "They were Italian!" she screams. "Now they're practical."

The movie is funny and fast-paced as well. I don't know how much of it was really filmed in Colombia and how much on a movie studio backlot, but the scenery is gorgeous. It may even turn you into a hope-ful romantic.

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