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The Jewel of the Nile

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.”

One reason they don’t really make adventure movies anymore is they would have to hire painters to do the posters.

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.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2020 at 10:36 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “The Jewel of the Nile”

  1. The Flying Karamazov Brothers did go on to do a really tremendous stage production of Comedy of Errors in 1987, which was very influential to me personally, so in that respect I think we can say that Jewel of the Nile was a great success.

  2. This movie is definitely mediocre in comparison to the original, but I could never figure out what’s supposed to be so terrible about it. I guess part of it is the reason there aren’t many sequels to romantic comedies: Who the hell REALLY wants to see what happens after the honeymoon ends?

    Lewis Teague is an underrated director, in my opinion. ALLIGATOR is a personal favorite. I think I even like it more than PIRANHA, the other JAWS ripoff/parody made from a John Sayles script. And I say that as this sight’s resident Joe Dante/Roger Corman nerd.

  3. We remember him today as a comedian and heroically prodigious alcoholic, but W.C. Fields began his career as a juggler, supposedly one of the all-time greats. He would absolutely pack vaudeville halls all over the USA and beyond, all this before he ever appeared on film. By time he started starring in movies, he’d transitioned almost entirely to his ridiculously dry style of comedy, and only a fairly small amount of footage of him juggling survives (most notably in The Old Fashioned Way).

    So he’s probably the all-time juggler-to-movie-star champion. I’m not sure about the box office of like The Bank Dick, so Jewel is likely the highest grossing movie starring a juggler or jugglers.

  4. I would like to join anyone willing to lead the movement to create a new (or perhaps a ) jugglesploitation subgenre.

  5. Not sure why “nouveau” got deleted In the parentheses there.

  6. Here’s the strange story (with a sad ending) of the rewriting process on this movie, from the perspective of one of the rewriters:

  7. Douglas tells the Porsche story on the ROMANCING DVD. Man, that has got to be the kind of thing that haunts you, even if you try and tell yourself that the person you gave the car to wasn’t the one driving at the time of the accident. Douglas did not seem to have a high opinion of that guy but maybe that’s his guilty conscience talking. Not saying he has any reason to feel guilty, but how could he not?

  8. Lewis Teague is definitely one of those guys who all have the same career…they do 5-10 movies, then go to tv cause why not? It’s not like they’re particuarily strong directors, they pretty much just set em up and get the shots and get out of there. And there’s a million solid but not necessarily interesting journeymen ready to come in right behind them. You need those guys to just crank out the basic movies that are pretty fun and not much more.

    I just watched Alligator the other night too!

  9. This is tenuous at best but I will still seize the opportunity to namedrop the 70’s kidnapping thriller “Night of the Juggler”, starring James Brolin and Cliff Gorman (neither a real-life juggler, to my knowledge) and say it is thunderously underrated.

  10. I’ve got this on a double dvd with ROMANCING, and I usually watch them together. It’s not top shelf Colton & Wilder, but I’ve never fully understood all the negativity.

    With some tweaking I reckon UNDERCOVER BLUES could easily have been a sequel to this.

  11. “Teague was a weird choice to direct, coming off a run of ALLIGATOR, FIGHTING BACK, CUJO and CAT’S EYE”

    Not so weird, if you think that Teague was also second unit director on Sam Fuller’s THE BIG RED ONE, which incidentally must assure his place in movie heaven. It’s easy to imagine Michael Douglas seeing that and thinking Teague might know how to shoot stuff in a desert.

  12. And “Of course I should note that these are, I believe, white guys playing Arabs. At least the beards are real.”

    The Flying Karamazov Brothers had form on this front, but at least they were honest about it: in their stage show they would explain that they weren’t brothers, weren’t Russian and couldn’t fly!

    The British comedy actor Mark Heap started out as a street performer and, inevitably, has some nifty juggling skills. It hardly counts as movie stardom, but he has fun roles in STARDUST and THE WORLD’S END.

    Here he is putting them to questionable use on Big Train:

  13. 1: I saw this movie at the drive-in and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not as good as the first, sure. But very few sequels are. The target is ‘good enough’ which this is

    2: Night of the Juggler fucking rules

  14. Concur about THE NIGHT OF THE REALLY TERRIBLE TITLE. The book it’s based on is also pretty solid.

  15. I watched JEWEL last night and still hold that it is a passable followup that, like many sequels to unexpected sleeper hits, can’t quite replicate the curious alchemy of the original, so it makes up for it with increased production value.

    One thing that hasn’t aged well is DeVito’s character’s anti-Arab racism, referring to them as “towelheads” and accusing them of being sheepfuckers. You might say it’s okay because he’s supposed to be a bad guy, but I guess the soundtrack agrees because the song that plays during the big juggling sequence is credited as “Party (No Sheep Is Safe Tonight).”

    Also what’s up with Jack having to fight the Nubian prince for Joan’s hand in marriage and then in the very next scene Joe explains that in their tribe it’s the women who choose the men? I realize this particular screenplay was written by dumping out three or four different versions of the script in front of a giant fan and then filming whichever ones landed face up but you’d think someone might have caught that.

    It is my goal in life to one day look as sharp in a white suit as Michael Douglas does in this movie.

  16. Glad you found a lot to appreciate in this sequel. It’s probably why Bond and Indy always have new love interests because they never know what to do once they’ve gotten together. Thankfully Fast and the Furious figured it out with Dom and Letty.

  17. It’s bonkers to me that this movie was in theaters a mere 18 months after Romancing the Stone was released. That was virtually unheard of then. Nowadays we’re used to franchisers making films “back to back” so you might get an MCU or Tolkien movie year to year, but this was back when things were like: “Hey, kid, did you enjoy Star Wars? Great, we’ll have another one ready for you In three years. See you when you’ve almost grown out of it.”

    As a kid my family and I were very into Romancing the Stone. I’ve only ever watched Nile once, way back when it came out, but my memory of it was that it was boring and the characters seemed grating all of a sudden. Maybe I should rewatch it one of these days, though.

  18. Sword of the Eternal: Jack and Joan are in Scotland for Joan’s research for her next book. She meets an enigmatic antiquities dealer named XXX MacLeod. He sees in Joan something he’s never seen before: possibly someone he can trust to chronicle his (eternal) life story. Jack gets jealous. Joan begins to realize XXX is an immortal, on a quest to fight the last of the immortals in a ritual called The Gathering. There’s a treasure, though – a sword – that must be found somewhere in the Highlands, and Jack is after it, but so is XYZ bad guy immortal, who sees it as the only way he can defeat XXX MacLeod in The Gathering. Jack is seduced by XYZ to join him because by then he thinks Joan and XXX have become lovers, so this would be the best way to get back at her. The final confrontation is way beyond what Jack and Joan could have imagined, with sword fighting (Jack gets in on it because Joan once wrote a pirate novel about him, and he’s spent some years fencing and getting his ass cultured), and when Jack – not XXX MacLeod – beheads XYZ villain – it is he, and not MacLeod who gets The Quickening. Does this mean Jack is an Immortal? He’s never died yet, so we won’t know, but this puts the damper on Joan and XXX’s romance, and she falls in love all over again with her dashing husband. XXX and Jack have a moment where they could go at it with their swords in ANOTHER final confrontation, but they back off, with respect. I dunno. I always wanted to see Jack and Joan in a Highlander movie.

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