If the Robert Zemeckis of the 1980s could see what he would morph into only four decades later, he would naturally seek out to destroy this terrifying beast that dared to stand where a good man once lingered. Romancing the Stone isn’t much of quality, the ego-trip of producer and leading man Michael Douglas as obvious as the day is long, but having such a man at the centre of it all, colliding into Zemeckis, was a good enough draw. With Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito added to the mix, there was a chance – a slim, slim chance – that Romancing the Stone could be of value.
Normally, time spent with the imagination is a rewarding experience. Zemeckis and crew set out to prove this unwavering, cemented fact wrong. Poorly formed tropes of the lonely writer in her cat-strewn cove linger in an opening that relies on smooth jazz and relatively light comedy components. As uncomfortably bland these moments may be, they do follow the rigid structure that felt so fresh and defining these bygone times. Cacophonous and out-of-place the harsh synth styles of the soundtrack may be in contemporary use, it finds its home in Romancing the Stone, where it is used merely to prick the ear of audience members, to make sure they pay attention, rather than for any artistic merit.
But artistic merit is not on the mind of anyone here. Pure entertainment value is on the cusp of their abilities, but never quite falls into place. Nothing within Romancing the Stone ventures deeper or further beyond than immediate mediocrity. For the slowest or most passive of audience members, they too will grapple with the story, hooked by the repetitive nature that abounds throughout. Seeing a problem, having a second character involve and confirm that problem, and then a third to confirm the confirmation of there being such a problem. Romancing the Stone is not the most engaged of viewings, nor is it at all very interesting. Tackling nothing of any real importance with very little gusto provides a useless assembly of forgettable moments, faux romance and stone-cold, inarticulate concepts that are dead on arrival.
Coaxing charm from Romancing the Stone seems as difficult as its eponymous task, a gruelling and onerous challenge to adapt and display such an overdone and boring concept. Credit to those that dared to try, but I wonder as to why they did so. Why bother, when three years later, Rob Reiner would craft The Princess Bride and offer the benchmark for 1980s adventure. Zemeckis wishes to play in the big leagues of action-comedy quasi sub-genres, but he can make neither heads nor tails of what he wishes to show, or crucially, what he yearns to say. Both are lost under a sloppy mudslide of generalised notions, generic characters, all gestating in a pool of boredom, waiting for their sweet release from this mediocre prison.