`Romancing the Stone' was great escapist fun

Critics' picks: New DVDs

August 27, 2006|By MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY

ROMANCING THE STONE -- 20th Century Fox / $19.98.

Some films are more than the sum of their parts, and Romancing the Stone is one of them. Any dedicated moviegoer can probably rattle off funnier comedies, more passionate love stories and more gasp-inducing action films - but few flicks blend all three elements as well as this 1984 escapist delight. The special edition DVD is being released Tuesday.

Kathleen Turner plays romance novelist Joan Wilder, who journeys to Colombia to rescue her sister, who has been kidnapped by treasure-seeking guerrillas. After Joan's bus crashes in the jungle, she enlists the aid of Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), a ne'er-do-well con man and bird rustler who is handy with a machete. Danny DeVito portrays a bumbling kidnapper.

The pair must contend with government mercenaries, alligators, drug dealers and not least, good ol' Mother Nature in a mischievous mood.

The film was a hit, and its popularity propelled its cast on to bigger and better things.

Though Turner already had a following among the art-house crowd for 1981's Body Heat, Romancing the Stone was her first big popular success. In the film, the actress is an incongruous mix of schoolgirl and sex goddess. She has round cheeks and a perky upturned nose - but also precipitous curves and a voice that, with its accents of bourbon and honey, could cure the common cold.

But Turner has other assets as well. One of the chief surprises in Romancing the Stone is her adeptness at physical comedy; the script requires Turner to fall splat on her elegant derriere not once, but three times.

In 1984, Douglas was primarily known as a television actor in the 1972 series The Streets of San Francisco. Like many small-screen actors of that era, he was having trouble making the leap to the big screen, but Romancing the Stone changed all that. As Jack Colton, Douglas hints at an intensity kept barely in check. That quality, combined with his impish grin, established the actor as a heartthrob and leading man.

Romancing also reunited old friends Douglas and DeVito, who had roomed together in New York at the start of their careers. DeVito's comic pratfalls are hilarious, whether he is fleeing across a meadow on his stubby legs while firing his gun upside-down and behind his back, or whether he's trying surreptitiously to remove a "Wanted" poster of himself from a police-station bulletin board - only to tumble headfirst over the counter.

But director Robert Zemeckis' career may have profited the most.

When Romancing was shot, he was 28 years old and had two minor films to his credit. Afterward, Zemeckis went on to direct Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump.

Special features

The Special Edition includes eight deleted scenes - including a sexy but discreet outtake of Turner bathing naked in a river - and interviews with the film's stars.

A pamphlet that accompanies the DVD also explains how some of the stunts were created. For instance, a scene in which an automobile carrying Jack and Joan is swept over a 70-foot waterfall didn't use a real vehicle. Instead, a specially constructed shell was built to resemble the car, and stuffed with inner-tubes and Styrofoam. Pretty tricky.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

WATER --20th Century Fox / $27.98

Director Deepa Mehta's deeply moving film is set in colonial India in 1938, as Mahatma Gandhi was about to rise to power and bring about needed social change.

Water chronicles the story of an 8-year-old girl who is married to a man she never has met. When young Chuyia is widowed she faces three choices: she can throw herself on the funeral pyre, she can marry his brother, or - the option chosen for the girl by her family - she can be locked up behind walls for the rest of her life with other widows.

As the child adjusts to her new home, she witnesses a forbidden love affair between another widow, a young beauty who is forced into prostitution to support the compound, and an aristocratic law student. (Eye-candy alert: The actors portraying the lovers, Lisa Ray and John Abraham, are two of the prettiest people ever to grace the screen.)

The history that the film portrays is fascinating, but the attitudes and abuses it depicts are not necessarily in the past.

Water initially was to be made in India, but the film's shooting reportedly was disrupted by riots, death threats and arson. Mehta was burned in effigy. The movie later was completed in Sri Lanka.

MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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