Wow, THE JEWEL OF THE NILE came out less than two years after ROMANCING THE STONE, which was expected to be a flop, so it’s not like they had a head start. Fast turnaround. Robert Zemeckis was off making BACK TO THE FUTURE and Diane Thomas was writing scripts for Spielberg (and wanted to be paid well) so producer/star Michael Douglas hired director Lewis Teague (ALLIGATOR) and writers Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner (THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, later SUPERMAN IV, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, STAR TREK VI, MERCURY RISING and the bad PLANET OF THE APES).
The story starts six months later, with Joan and Jack sailing around the world on the boat he bought with the proceeds from part 1’s stolen jewel. (I thought he bought it for her as a gift, but I guess not.) This time she’s having trouble writing her books because her life is too much romance and adventure. She’s actually bored of all the exotic locales and beautiful sunsets and sits in the boat with her typewriter writing a garbage pirate adventure which she now imagines starring herself and Jack but also gets thrown off and accidentally turns the pirates into punks? I don’t know if that represents a typo or a failed artistic flourish or what.
Despite her frustrations, this seems like a hell of a lifestyle, and you don’t see her rugged man friend complaining that he misses his life of unspecified crime and capturing exotic birds in South American jungles. Now he’s a boater and party man and he cleans up well, looking pretty Sonny Crockett with his hair and light colored suits.
Their half year vacation ends abruptly in the South of France when she impulsively accepts an offer from sheik-or-something Omar Khalifa (Greek actor Spiros Focas, ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS, SHAFT IN AFRICA, RAMBO III) to come with him on his private jet and write his biography. She sees it as the type of Important Writer Shit she needs for fulfillment, but the guy turns out to be a tyrant. To her credit she figures it out pretty quick, sneaks around eavesdropping and then escapes with political prisoner Al-Julhara (Avner Eisenberg, BRENDA STARR) whose nickname “Jewel of the Nile” causes a misunderstanding in which Jack and Ralph (Danny DeVito, who snuck in JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY and a voice in the animated Wonderworks divorce special HAPPILY EVER AFTER since the first film), who has been chasing him since part 1, to team up and come after Omar. (Also because Omar blew up the boat.) A guy named Tarak (Paul David Magid, WHEN I AM KING) recruits them to help find the “jewel” to stop the evil Omar.
Here’s the weirdest and coolest thing about this movie: Eisenberg, who plays Al-Julhara, was not a movie actor, but a vaudeville performer experienced in mime, clowning and juggling, and Tarak and five of his tribesmen are played by the juggling troupe The Flying Karamazov Brothers. As far as I know the juggler-to-movie-star path is not as commonly used as the athlete/musician/comedian-to-movie-star ones, so this is quite a novelty. Douglas apparently saw them perform and came up with the idea, and it’s brilliant not only because it allows for major characters to randomly juggle swords and stuff without any camera trickery, but because they already have well established comic personas and chemistry from years of performing together. I feel like any other possible casting would’ve made them boring, generic characters, but here they have a deadpan oddness that makes them entertaining. So, like, in the scene where they lead Jack and Ralph through the desert on horses and camels while playing “The Freaks Come Out at Night” on a radio the joke is “these guys seem fun, what’s up with them?” instead of “ha ha, they’re Arabs but they’re listening to Whodini.”
Of course I should note that these are, I believe, white guys playing Arabs. At least the beards are real. The other highlight of the movie is also culturally questionable: it’s the section of the movie where they escape into the Nubian mountains and become guests of an unnamed African tribe. On one hand, there’s a long, uncomfortable comedy sequence about the chief (Sadeke Colobanane) making Jack wrestle his giant son (Hyacinth N’Iaye) to win possession of Joan. On the other hand, there’s a big, joyous dance scene that seems authentic and turns out to be performed by the National Dance Company of Senegal.
And of course there are some stunts and some explosions and lots of machine gun fire and what not. There’s a good visual gag where Jack and Ralph have been turned away from trying to visit Joan at the palace, and they don’t notice her in the background trying to climb down from the roof. And there’s a big sequence involving a stolen jet fighter (utilizing the popular “this is like a video game” trope, in this case comparing it to Space Invaders) that drives around and crashes into buildings.
This is one of those sequels that makes more money than its predecessor but still kills the franchise because nobody thinks it’s very good. And I know some of you declared your hatred for it in the ROMANCING THE STONE comments. It is noticeably messier and the romantic tension is maybe a little more forced. But I don’t know – maybe since I wasn’t completely bowled over by the first one, I found this one pretty much fulfilled its duty. You got a different location, an advancement in the relationship of the leads, a variety of amusing if corny jokes (many of them possible DeVito ad libs, like lovingly calling his camel “Humphrey”) and a surprising amount of novelty between the juggler cast and the Nubian dance sequence.
Teague was a weird choice to direct, coming off a run of ALLIGATOR, FIGHTING BACK, CUJO and CAT’S EYE, and apparently this giant production was difficult for him; there was an embarrassing fuckup where they had to redo a massive scene the next day because they set everything up and then couldn’t find film for the camera. Still, I think Teague is underappreciated as a journeyman director of the era (he also did COLLISION COURSE and NAVY SEALS before being sentenced to TV movie exile). In the making-of interviews he’s pretty frank about being in over his head, but I think he did pretty well with all these stunts that are on a much bigger scale than any of his other movies (stunt coordinator: Glenn Randall Jr., who did the actual RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK as well as Douglas’s wife’s THE MASK OF ZORRO), and what surprised me is that it’s actually a better looking movie than the first one, which can be explained by him bringing along cinematographer Jan De motherfuckin Bont. I know De Bont is kind of a punchline because he whiffed his directorial career after SPEED and TWISTER thrust him into the spotlight, but you don’t have to appreciate LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER – THE CRADLE OF LIFE like I do to acknowledge that the fucker could shoot. He did various Verhoeven movies, DIE HARD, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, and Teague’s own CUJO, which has some amazing camera moves. In this one he’s in love with the desert sun and all the beautiful ways it can lay on surfaces.
Turner apparently thought the script sucked and was mad they didn’t get Diane Thomas back. To get her on board 20th Century Fox threatened to sue her, and Douglas had it rewritten, but not to her satisfaction. The actors all hated the heat of Morocco and wanted to get the fuck out of there. Also, in addition to Thomas’ death in a car accident, the production had to deal with the loss of production designer Richard Dawking and production manager Brian Coates in a plane crash during location scouting. So it was not an enjoyable production.
I don’t know how to look this up, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say definitively that it was one of the all time highest grossing movies starring jugglers. Regrettably, that wasn’t enough to kick off a jugglesploitation trend. Its biggest contribution to culture may have been the hit theme song. Like so many of the movies from the summer of that year (this came out in December) features two original pop songs. The end credits has Precious Wilson actually singing about “The Jewel of the Nile,” while Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” references dialogue from the film. It had a video featuring Turner, Douglas and DeVito in white suits pretending to sing backup for Ocean (and DeVito doing the sax solo). The song made it to #2 on the US charts and #1 in the UK.
Apparently over the years there have been a couple attempts at a third Joan Wilder and/or Jack Colton movie. One was called THE CRIMSON EAGLE and would’ve involved Joan and Jack being blackmailed to steal a statue while in Thailand with their teenage kids. Another called RACING THE MONSOON was supposed to happen in 2008 and film in India. The Indian producers said it would feature an Indian diamond mine and a big chase on a train, and they wanted Aishwarya Rai (BRIDE & PREJUDICE) to co-star. But I think (hope) it evolved away from its ROMANCING THE STONE connection, because none of the articles say anything about Kathleen Turner, and Catherine Zeta-Jones was later said to be co-starring. I’m assuming they wouldn’t really believe anybody cared to see a sequel with only one of them. And not even the main one. Anyway the director was supposed to be Steve Carr (NEXT FRIDAY, DR. DOLITTLE 2, DADDY DAY CARE, PAUL BLART: MALL COP).
There have also been attempts at a remake, possibly directed by Robert Luketic (LEGALLY BLONDE) starring Katherine Heigl with Taylor Kitsch or Gerard Butler (you know, either one of those two drastically different types), as well as an NBC series that Deadline said would “follow a successful but unfulfilled woman who teams with a risk-taking adventurer to take on weekly missions while on a larger quest to find her missing brother.” That sounds like a way better idea than a new movie (assuming she’s still a romance novelist?), but it would’ve been directed by Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM).
I invite you all to imagine these could’ve beens and see if it makes you appreciate JEWEL OF THE NILE a little more. Or not.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.