Last year’s hit comedy Romancing the Stone chronicled the adventures and the unlikely love affair that transformed Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) from a dowdy romance novelist into a heroine right out of her own writings. As The Jewel of the Nile opens, six months have passed since Joan sailed off with her lover-adventurer, Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), and there is trouble in paradise: Jack is unable to make an emotional commitment to Joan, who, disillusioned by the disintegration of their affair, cannot complete her latest love story. Then an assignment to write the biography of a would-be emperor, Omar (Spiros Focas), lures Joan to a North African kingdom, setting the stage for a clever Hollywood sequel.
But Joan’s suave subject is actually a dangerous despot who has imprisoned the country’s popular holy man (Avner Eisenberg). Meanwhile, Jack and a belligerent little crook, Ralph (Danny DeVito), arrive, hot on the trail of the mysterious “Jewel of the Nile.” Midway through the film, they realize that the jewel is the holy man himself.
The bigger mystery is why Douglas, who produced both movies, used Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, instead of Romancing’s witty Diane Thomas, to write the script. Except for Eisenberg’s performance, The Jewel of the Nile is uninspired. Indeed, Douglas fails to offer the basic element of a good sequel: more of the same.
SPIES LIKE US
Directed by John Landis
Bumbling their way to the brink of a third world war, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase star in Spies Like Us as a pair of American intelligence agents recruited from the basement ranks to act as decoys in a spy mission behind Soviet lines. The ever-earnest Aykroyd plays straight man to the expansively smug Chase, while the beautiful Donna Dixon (Aykroyd’s real-life spouse) serves as sexual decor for a story whose plot is considerably thinner than its production values.
The film-makers have taken pains to find exotic, if glaringly inauthentic, locations: the sands of Morocco double as Pakistan, the snows of Norway serve as Afghanistan. As the pair traipse
through the scenery, Spies satirizes a panorama of movie clichés—from the orchestral surges of the score of Dr. Zhivago to the military madness of Dr. Strangelove.
Although the humor is sophomoric,the satire is often on target. Gen. Sline (Steve Forrest) operates an underground command post buried deep beneath an abandoned drive-in movie lot. The movie screen folds down, giving way to reflector dishes which rise out of the ground as Sline issues the order to deploy a new laser-satellite defence system: “Bring all the birds into final bounce mode.”
If nothing else, Spies Like Us provides witty commentary on U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars project. But Aykroyd’s partnership with Chase lacks chemistry, especially when compared with the comic pyrotechnics of his collaboration with the late John Belushi. The result is that their humor rarely crosses the frontier from amusement to hilarity. -BRIAN D. JOHNSON
THE COLOR PURPLE
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, told the story of Celie, who is “black, poor, ugly and a woman”—or as her husband, Albert, puts it, “nothin’.” Yet Celie has an inner beauty, and the book memorably portrays her self-discovery. Written as a
series of letters, first to God and then to her sister, Nettie, a missionary in Africa, The Color Purple is a down-to-earth fairy tale. But Steven Spielberg’s adaptation sweetens the story, adding a syrupy musical score and pastel cinematography. Gone are the rhythmical black Georgia dialect, the poverty and the coarse language. What remains is a sanitized version of Walker’s painfully moving account—made inoffensive for popular consumption.
As Celie, Whoopi Goldberg is more of a simpleton than a simple woman. Albert (Danny Glover) beats her up and hides Nettie’s letters from her. Then Celie’s lifeline arrives in the person of a blues singer, Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), Albert’s sometime mistress. Through Shug, Celie finds the strength to become her own person and leave Albert. But apart from one romantic scene the viewer barely knows that Celie is a lesbian, and there is no suggestion that she and Shug become lovers. By excising as much as he does, Spielberg creates problems in the storytelling. Characters in the movie emerge unexpectedly, with passions and interests for which the audience is totally unprepared.
The Color Purple is the story of one woman’s growth against incredible odds. But Spielberg glosses over his heroine’s transformation. Instead, he has concentrated on making his movie pretty and palatable—turning The Color Purple into shades of lavender. -L. OT.
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