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In The Jewel of the Nile ,the 1985 sequel to the Robert Zemeckis-directed romantic adventure Romancing the Stone (1984), Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas reunite as the alternately adversarial and amorous team of swashbuckling adventurer Jack Colton and uptight romance writer Joan Wilder.
The film opens with a scene aboard a pirate ship, an overheated fantasy lit in an otherworldly red, drawn from Wilder's latest romance. But back in reality, Wilder is suffering from a major bout of writer's block on Colton's sailboat docked on the Riviera. Though she has promised to accompany Colton as he sails around the world, Wilder is distracted by the resplendent scenery and life of leisure. Living out a real romantic fantasy, ironically enough, appears to impede her ability to spin romantic fiction.
On dry land for a book event, Wilder tells her skeptical publisher Gloria (Holland Taylor) about her difficulty writing, "romance just doesn't seem real to me anymore." But at the party, Wilder meets the man she imagines is going to change her luck. Anxious to become the emperor of a strife-torn African country called Kadir (a fictional place), Omar (Spiros Focas) is convinced that Wilder is the writer to tell his story and pave the way to his political destiny. He convinces Wilder to leave Colton and fly with him to Kadir where he hopes Wilder's penmanship and possession of the famed "Jewel of the Nile" will help him rule the land.
Meanwhile Colton has reunited with Ralph (Danny DeVito), his surly nemesis from Romancing the Stone, and a revolutionary opponent of Omar's reign Tarak (Paul David Magid) who leads a raucous group of Sufis on horseback bopping along to their boom boxes. Tarak convinces the men with their help they can recover the Jewel of the Nile and remove Omar from power. Thus ensues a maelstrom of action and adventure as Wilder finally learns of Omar's ill-intent and escapes his clutches with Colton's help.
An odd mix of both Arab stereotypes and conventional film typecasting, The Jewel of the Nile characterizes its Arabs as anonymous villains and rebels barely distinguished by their names Tarak, Barak, Karak, Arak and Sarak in the tradition of the Indiana Jones cycle that inspired it. As Vincent Canby noted in The New York Times of the film's casual racism expressed by the obnoxious Ralph, "'Why do these Third World cesspools always have to be so hot?'' Canby was not the only critic to call the film out for its prejudices. As a TV Guide reviewer noted, "it's hard to overlook the racist depiction of Arabs, which is markedly less jovial than the stereotypical treatment of Latinos in the first film."
Strangely enough, part of the way the film vilifies Omar and his henchmen is by linking the Arabs to Nazi imagery. In the climax where Omar attempts to sway his citizens to make him their prophet-ruler the film borrows, oddly enough, from the vocabulary of Nuremberg with its eagles and banners and militaristic spectacle.
A $21 million production, The Jewel of the Nile reportedly grossed almost as much as Romancing the Stone but fared less well in critical circles. In her New York Times review Janet Maslin wrote, "There are frequent, expensive-looking explosions, and the more elaborate sets include an entire Arab village (which is mostly demolished during the course of the story, as an airplane is driven through it) and an immense, Nazi-style backdrop against which a political rally unfolds. Far from generating excitement, this excess baggage merely signals conspicuous waste. It's never possible to enjoy the film without registering how much costly, unnecessary trouble went into getting it made."
Turner and Douglas were reportedly not happy about making a Romancing the Stone sequel, but were contractually bound to participate in a sequel. Twentieth Century Fox supposedly threatened to hit Turner with a multi-million dollar lawsuit if she backed out of the project, as first promised. But their presence lends the slightly absurd story its sole amusement and interest. As Roger Ebert noted in his review of the film, "their chemistry is sometimes more entertaining than the contrivances of the plot."
The Jewel of the Nile also suffered the unfortunate tragedy of a plane crash two weeks before filming began, which killed production designer Richard Dawking and production manager Brian Coates as well as everyone else on board the flight to Morocco, where most of the film was shot.
Another bit of trivia: This sequel to Romancing the Stone is famous for its top forty theme song performed by Billy Ocean, "When the Going gets Tough, The Tough Get Going."
Director: Lewis Teague
Producer: Michael Douglas
Screenplay: Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner from characters created by Diane Thomas
Cinematography: Jan de Bont
Production Design: Richard Dawking, Terry Knight
Music: Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Kathleen Turner (Joan Wilder), Michael Douglas (Jack Colton), Danny DeVito (Ralph), Spiros Focas (Omar), Avner Eisenberg (Jewel), Paul David Magid (Tarak).
by Felicia Feaster