Category Archives: Kidnapping Movies

The Lady Vanishes (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where’s the old lady?

In 1939 while traveling by train from Bavaria to Switzerland American Heiress Amanda (Cybill Shepherd) befriends an English nanny named Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury). The two sit across from each other inside a train compartment. When Amanda awakens from a nap she notices that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she asks others where she went to everybody denies having even seen her. Amanda starts to question her own sanity and tries to use the assistance of American photographer Robert Condon (Elliot Gould) to help her figure out what is going on.

This film is a remake of the classic 1938 movie of the same name, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White. I last saw the original over 30 years ago while attending college, so my memories of it are fuzzy and I’ll be unable to compare the two. However, I do remember enjoying it and feeling that this thing doesn’t quite reach the same level.

The biggest issue is the casting of Shepherd. I think she’s a gorgeous lady, I loved seeing her in the low cut white dress and at one point she even appears to bravely do her stunts by jumping off a moving train, but her acting is not up to par. She can be great as a bitchy, sarcastic woman or even as a kooky eccentric, but as someone we want to root for or sympathize with, no way. Some of her former co-stars including Bruce Willis and Christine Baranski have described her as being cold and competitive to deal with and that’s the exactly same vibe I get every time I see her. Her efforts to cover that up in an attempt to play a more likable character doesn’t work, so instead producers should cast her in parts that mesh with her personality while getting someone else more affable for this role.

Gould has the same problem. He looks bored and out-of-place and I don’t know why the nationalities of the two lead characters, which had been British in the original, were changed to American here, but it doesn’t help. Besides there is absolutely no chemistry between he and Shepherd, which makes the romantic angle come off as quite forced. He was also considerably older than her and they should’ve at the very least cast two people more in the same age range.

Even the great Angela Lansbury is all wrong here. She still gives the role a stellar performance with her best moment coming when her eyes well up with tears as the other passengers openly contemplate throwing her off the train and into the clutches of an SS officer standing outside, which proves that the truly great stars don’t need any speaking lines to convey just the right emotion.  However, she was only in her 50’s at the time and didn’t come off looking elderly. Dame May Whitty played the part in the original and was in her 70’s, which is what the age of the actress playing the part here should’ve been.

The basic premise is still entertaining enough to keep things passable, but I would’ve liked the mystery angle played up more by showing things only from Amanda’s perspective until the viewer started to question her sanity as well. The scene where Amanda sees the name Miss Froy written in the dust of a train window by the Lansbury character earlier and then having that name strangely disappear off the window after they go through a tunnel makes no sense. This was supposed to be a ‘realistic’ thriller and therefore surreal elements should not have been thrown in.

The climactic sequence is entertaining, Arthur Lowe is enjoyable in a supporting part, and the Austrian scenery is luscious, but the movie is marginal and only helps to make the viewer appreciate the original more than anything.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

D.C. Cab (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Loser cab drivers unite.

In a long ago and far away time before there was Uber or Lyft and taxi cabs where the only service there’s a story of Albert (Adam Baldwin) a young man who comes to Washington D.C. looking to start up his own cab company, but finds it to be more difficult than he thought. He gets a job with Harold (Max Gail) who runs a cab company that is sinking fast and could get shut down. Albert motivates the other drivers to work together to help save the company and in return they help save him when he gets kidnapped.

The idea of having a story set in the nation’s capital and not having it centered around politics is probably the only novel thing about this film that is otherwise crude and obnoxious with characters that are embarrassingly moronic. Writer/director Joel Schumacher seems to want to sink to the lowest common denominator with each and every shot and in that regard he succeeds brilliantly.

The film’s grimy look helps accentuate the low class farce especially the incredibly tattered shape of the cabs that Harold’s employees drive around in. I realize this was for comic effect, but it goes overboard. There is absolutely no way anyone, no matter how desperate would want to take a ride in one of those things that look they are ready to fall apart at any second. The viewer can’t have much empathy for someone, even as likable as Harold is, who takes such little pride in his company’s product or dumb enough to expect people would consider his business with the vehicles looking the way they do when they are clearly other better competitors to choose from. In reality the vehicles would’ve been considered an obvious road hazard and impounded by the cops almost immediately anyways.

The film tried to feed off of Mr. T’s then popularity by billing him as the star during its promotion, but his screen time is limited. Baldwin is the actual star even though he is incredibly dull and says or does nothing that is funny or amusing. His character arch where he goes from quiet, passive schmuck to inspiring speaker, as he tries to motivate the other drivers, is too extreme. Jim Carrey had auditioned for the role and wanted the part, but Schumacher turned him because he felt he was too talented to be a part of an ensemble cast, which he probably was, but his presence could’ve helped a lot nonetheless.

Gail comes off best and should’ve been the lead, but since he was over 40 and the producers where aiming for a younger demographic he gets unfairly relegated to supporting status. His character’s relationship with his cold, bitchy wife, played by Anne De Salvo, offers a few chuckles particularly the scene where she locks herself in her house and wards off everyone else from entering by aiming a blow torch out of her bedroom window.

Seeing Bill Maher or Jill Schoelen in their film debuts might pique the interest of some, but the plot itself is too unfocused and goes off on too many different tangents with loosely connected story threads put in simply to pad the running time. The only really funny moment comes when a car crashes through a drive-in movie screen as it shows another movie dealing with a completely different car chase. I also liked the scene with Timothy Carey that comes after the credits are over, but otherwise this is one cab ride that’s not worth its fare.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gus (1976)

gus

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mule becomes a kicker.

The California Atoms are the worst team in football and their owner Hank Cooper (Ed Asner) is desperate to try anything in order to get them winning and fans back into the seats. His secretary Debbie (Louise ‘Liberty’ Williams) reads an article about a mule living in Yugoslavia that is able to kick soccer balls at a long distance. He decides to have the animal and its owner Andy (Gary Grimes) shipped all the way from there to the United States where they hope to have the mule try out as a field goal kicker for the team. Since the rule book never specifically states that the players must be human they figure they can get away with it and do. The team starts to win again and Gus is a fan favorite, but mobster Charles (Harold Gould) doesn’t like it and hires two bumbling crooks (Tom Bosley, Tim Conway) to kidnap the animal, so he won’t be able to show up when the team plays in the all-important Superbowl.

Although as a kid I found this film to be enjoyable as an adult it comes off as boring and lacking. The idea that simply adding in a mule to kick long field goals would be enough to turn around a team’s dismal fortunes is highly suspect. For one thing a long distance field goal kicker will kick the ball at a much lower trajectory in order to get it to travel farther and thus the potential to block those kicks is much higher and yet for some reason that never occurs with any of Gus’s kicks, but most likely would. Also, just having a good kicker who can make field goals does not improve the defense that still must stop the other team from scoring. This team was described as getting blown out of every game that they were in, so how then does the defense start magically keeping the other team’s offense in check, so that the games remained manageable and Gus’s field goals would mean something?

The viewer never gets to see Gus kick an actual field goal anyways. What we see instead is the animal kick the ball and then the camera immediately cuts to a superimposed ball floating in the air with a corny sound effect tacked on and then another cut showing it gliding through the goal posts, but never an unedited long shot, which proves most likely no animal would be able to do the feat in real-life or able to do it in a consistently accurate way.

The comical elements aren’t too great either with the two best moments coming from a chase through a hospital as well as another one inside a grocery store, but even here there are problems. For one thing the super market chase, where Bosley and Conway try to corral the animal, goes on way too long and most likely the security or police would’ve been called in long before many of the antics that do occur would’ve happened. There’s also a tacky ‘life lesson’ thread thrown in dealing with Andy learning to have self-confidence, which does nothing but make the film seem even more contrived than it already is.

This marks Grimes’s last film to date as he ended up retiring from movies at the young age of 21 even though his career started off so promisingly with his starring role in Summer of ’42. He stated that the roles he was being offered were no longer up to his standards, but most likely studios were realizing that his acting abilities were limited and it was either get into another line of work, or be relegated to B-movie hell afterwards and his transparent presence here more than proves that.

Asner is the real star and has a few funny lines. I also enjoyed football legend Dick Butkus playing the role of a jealous boyfriend. His acting isn’t exactly good, but his constant expressions of aggravation are fun. Bob Crane in a brief bit manages to be a scene stealer as an obnoxious sportscaster who won’t stop talking until he finally loses his voice.

Kids may take to this more, but even then I’m not so sure as many of them may find it dated in a film that unfortunately can’t stand up to the test of scrutiny or time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 7, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

dont-go-in-the-house

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is a grown son living at home with his mother (Ruth Dardick) and suffering from the nightmares of his childhood where she would routinely burn his arms on an open flame every time he misbehaved. When she dies he decides to use his new found freedom to pick-up women at random, bring them back to his place and then burn them to death with his blow torch. Afterwards he dresses the corpses up, puts them into a bedroom where he routinely visits them and has ‘conversations’.

The film uses its low budget to great effect by becoming a grainy, starkly realized journey into a madman’s mind. The large, rundown 21-bedroom home that Donny lives in and has now become the Strauss Mansion Museum in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey offers a terrific backdrop. The decayed, rundown interior becomes a motif to Donny’s deteriorating mind. The faded color matches the grim subject matter and even the sound, which has a constant popping noise like it was taken from a corrupted tape, gives off an eerie feeling like listening to muffled dialogue from a secret, underground source. The cold, gray, wintery landscape adds even more to the bleak ambience.

Director Joseph Ellison seems intent on forcing the viewer to get inside the killer’s head and understanding things from his point-of-view. Instead of having a robotic, evil killing machine we get an overgrown man-child, so tormented from his upbringing that he is unable to know right-from-wrong and burns his victims under a misguided notion that it is somehow ‘cleansing’ them from their sins. The surreal dream done along a lonely beach in which Donny sees his victims come back to life and who drag him down a hole is well captured with just the right amount of atmosphere that easily makes it the best moment in the movie.

Some viewers have found the scene where Donny burns a woman alive inside a metal room while she dangles from a rope to be ‘repugnant’ and ‘going too far’ and has helped the movie achieve a notorious reputation. The scene though is really not all that graphic. We never see the victim actually burned just the lighted blow torch coming towards the screen and then it cuts away. The masks worn by the burn victims isn’t any different from those worn by dead decomposed bodies in other films, so it’s really more what’s implied that upsets some people than what is actually shown.

The film’s only real drawback is that it is much too similar to William Lustig’s Maniac that starred Joe Spinell and came out at around the same time. Both film’s deal with killer’s that have a severe mother complex, hear voices inside their heads, dress the bodies of their victims up, store them in their homes, have ‘conversations’ with them and even harbors visions of them coming back to life to seek revenge. The similarities between the two movies are so striking that they come off like a carbon copy to the other, which seriously hurts the tension because you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)

schoolgirls-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretty teens held captive.

Frank and John (Gary Kent, John Parker) are two mentally-challenged brothers who’ve spent years being dominated by their aging mother (Great Gaylord) who will not let them date other women, or in any way play out their sexual feelings. If they do bring home a girlfriend their mother scares them away, so instead they kidnap women that they spot at random and then bring them home to their basement where they are forced to partake in all sorts of perverted ‘games’.

This is one of those movies where you know from the very first frame that it’s going to be bad and then it just proceeds to get even worse as it goes along. The production values are abhorrent and the music score is especially annoying. Instead of playing something that sounds creepy or heightens the tension they play and sing melodies from children’s songs like ‘Three Blind Mice’.

The acting is pathetic especially from the women who show no fight or struggle and simply lie there like dead fish and allow their male captors to do what they want with them, which creates no tension.  The men aren’t frightening at all and the John character runs around while waving his arms in the air making both him and the movie look quite campy and silly.

If you’re hoping for something seedy or tawdry you can forget it. The provocative title and film poster may give you that impression, but what you receive instead would barely get an R-rating today. There’s very little nudity or gore and the action, which isn’t much, is poorly staged. The story does have a lurid quality, but it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before and overall quite tame and predictable by today’s standards.

There are similarities to this film and Charles Kaufman’s cult classic Mother’s Day, which came out 7 years later and was much better. Psycho is what this movie most resembles and there is even a scene where one of the victims bursts into the mother’s room only to find her to be a rotting skeleton, but it amazed me to think that the filmmakers behind this waste of time believed this would top that classic. Why simply rehash what has already been done before and better? Why not take things in a more unpredictable area? Maybe the writer, director and producer weren’t creative enough to think up anything else, so this tired, formulaic thing is all that they could offer, but it’s an embarrassment to all involved and should be avoided.

schoolgirls-2

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Girls in Chains, Abducted

Released: February 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Jones

Studio: Mirror Releasing

Available: DVD

“something big” (1971)

something big 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnapping the colonel’s wife.

Joe Baker (Dean Martin) is an aging bandit looking to do “something big”. He becomes aware of a hoard of treasure being hidden inside a church that sits just across the border and safely guarded by a throne of Mexican bandits. Joe figures that to be able to overpower them he’ll need a Gatling gun and turns to black market dealer Jonny Cobb (Albert Salmi) who agrees to sell him one in exchange for a woman as he’s been without the company of one for “too long”. Joe then begins robbing stagecoaches in a mission to find a woman attractive enough for Jonny’s tastes. After several attempts he finds one who just happens to be the wife of the cavalry colonel (Brian Keith) who then goes on a mission to rescue her while attempting to put a kibosh on Joe’s plans.

This is another film that was given a ‘bomb’ rating by Leonard Maltin that I didn’t think was all that desrved. It’s certainly no classic but James Lee Barrett’s script if full of dry humor and offbeat touches that manages to keep things consistently amusing. Some of my favorite bits include Martin traveling around with a small pooch in his saddle pocket, or his horse having gold crown teeth. Don Knight as his Scottish travel companion Tommy who carries his bagpipes with him at all times and will even occasionally play them as they enter new frontier towns is funny too.

Keith is spot-on as the slightly stuffy colonel who is stuck with incompetent underlings and just wants to move on with his impending retirement in peace, but can’t. His facial expressions alone are terrific and he gives a far more nuanced performance than co-star Martin and should’ve been given top billing.

The attractive and sassy Honor Blackman is great as Keith’s wife and could easily be considered a ‘milf’ by today’s male audience. Joyce Van Patten and Judi Meredith as two women living on a lonely ranch willing to have sex with any man that comes along, including the uptight colonel, are quite funny as is Salmi with his garishly discolored, tobacco stained teeth.

The climax features some nifty gun action including seeing Martin use his Gatling gun to shoot down the bandits in domino-like fashion, but for the most part the script too leisurely paced and in desperate need of more confrontation and elaborate scenarios. Marvin Hamlisch’s soft-rock score is out-of-place for the time period and the theme song sung by former Paul Revere and the Raiders front man Mark Lindsey doesn’t have any type of western feel to it. I also got tired of hearing the phrase “something big” mentioned over and over again. Initially it seemed cute and clever to repeat the film’s title in the dialogue, but it eventually goes overboard.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD

Hollywood Cop (1987)

hollywood cop 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Renegade cop saves child.

When Rebecca (Julie Schoenhofer) has her child Stevie (Brandon Angle) kidnapped by gangsters she finds that the police are of no help. Then she meets Turkey (David Goss) a cop that likes to work outside the system and he soon takes on the bad guys single-handedly even after it gets him fired from the force by his supervisor (Cameron Mitchell) who does not appreciate Turkey’s renegade ways.

A sleep inducing, run-of-the-mill action flick that was made to cash in on the popularity of Dirty Harry and the ‘Miami Vice’ TV-show with the Turkey character being a warped combination of Harry Callahan and Sonny Crockett. The plot is banal and the action redundant with a pounding, cheesy soundtrack that would be better suited for an ‘80’s porn movie.  Despite a few opening shots photographing Tinsletown’s iconic imagery the majority of the action take place in cheap looking backlots where the crew could film without having to get a permit and thus making the setting of the story and film’s title pointless as the whole thing could’ve just as easily taken place in Omaha, Nebraska and been just as effective or in this case ineffective.

The only thing that is slightly diverting is the casting of the small child who looks to be no older than five, but gets a major chunk of screen time and whose acting is far superior to that of his older co-stars. The scene where he has a ‘conversation’ with a Doberman that is guarding him and his attempts to ‘make friends’ with the animal can be considered depending on one’s perspective as being either endearing or laughably ridiculous. My only real complaint with him is the fact that he gets backhanded several times by the bad guys and even bleeds from the nose and mouth and yet he never cries. There is simply no way a young child of that age wouldn’t immediately break out into tears if they were hit like that and the fact that he doesn’t makes the already hokey scenario seem all the more fake.

Goss is terrible in the lead with his acting coming off almost as badly as his perm hairdo. Why the character is given such a stupid nickname as Turkey is never explained, but would’ve worked better as the film’s title instead. Schoenhofer is equally pathetic as the boy’s mother and her attempts at showing distress look more like someone suffering from stomach pains. I was also confused how an ordinary suburban housewife would be so adept at using a gun or expertly able to drive a speeding car during their chase with the gangsters.

Jim Mitchum, who is the son of the legendary actor Robert Mitchum and looks just like him, gets listed as the film’s star despite having very little time in front of the camera.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone even the most undemanding viewer could find this thing ‘cool’, or that the filmmakers actually thought there would be people out there who would like it. Good for a few unintentional laughs and that’s it although the film’s biggest joke is its opening title sequence in which every actor in the cast gets their name listed in a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, which is funny since none of these actors could ever come close to getting their own star in real-life.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Amir Shervan

Studio: Peacock Films

Available: DVD-R

 

And Hope to Die (1972)

and hope to die

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kidnapping a dead girl.

Tony (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is on the run from a gypsy group out for revenge and as he is being chased by them he encounters another group of criminals headed by Charley (Robert Ryan) who after some conflict take him into their fold and gives him the nickname of Froggy. Their plan is to kidnap a teen girl who is set to be the star witness at a trial of a major head of a criminal organization. Unfortunately she commits suicide before they can get to her, so they pretend that she is still alive and go through the motions of the kidnapping so as to be able to collect the payout by the organization that hired them.

This is the second of director Rene Clement’s trilogy dealing with the theme of kidnapping. The first was The Deadly Trap and the third being Scar Tissue. Of the three this one is the best mainly because of its many offbeat touches. The wry sense of humor, which is deftly interwoven into an already intricate plot, is terrific and helps make the entire thing engaging from beginning to end. My favorite parts include a contest that Froggy plays with Charley where he can stand three cigarettes on end straight into the air, which he can do with ease while Charley can’t despite his repeated efforts. The eulogy that Charley gives during a makeshift burial of one of their cohorts is priceless and the action isn’t bad either including an exciting sequence in which the group walks across a thin ladder hundreds of feet in the air that connects one skyscraper to another.

The characterizations are well done and played to the hilt. Trintignant plays another one of his outsider-looking-in roles and the way he manages to mesh himself into the group that is initially reluctant to have him is quite amusing. Aldo Ray is a scene stealer playing the gang’s resident bonehead and Tisa Farrow, who is Mia’s younger sister and looks almost like she could be her twin, is appealing in her role as a volatile young lady who knows how to use a gun and not afraid to shoot it whenever she gets the least bit riled.

The actual kidnapping, which is based on the novel ‘Black Friday’ by David Goodis, doesn’t occur until the final thirty minutes with the first hour dealing exclusively with Froggy’s assimilation into the group, which may sound boring, but really isn’t. In fact there is very little about this movie that I didn’t like and my only complaint would be the lackluster ending that doesn’t offer much of a payoff. Otherwise I feel this is a great example of how to mix humor with action, but still managing to keep things believable, fresh and inventive.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 15, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rene Clement

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Region 2)

The King of Comedy (1983)

king of comedy 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Struggling comic craves fame.

Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a lonely 34-year-old still living in the basement of his mother’s home while fantasizing about one day appearing on the top-rated Jerry Langford show as a stand-up comedian. When he tries to contact Langford (Jerry Lewis) he’s given the blow off, so he decides to plot an elaborate plan with an equally obsessed fan named Masha (Sandra Bernhard). Together they kidnap Jerry at gunpoint and take him back to her apartment where they tie him up with duct tape. They then call the show’s producers and demand that Rupert appear that night as a guest comedian on the show or Jerry’s life will be ended.

Paul D. Zimmerman’s script, which was originally written in the late ‘60s and intended as a vehicle for talk show host Dick Cavett, is nothing short of brilliant and the main reason for its success is that it takes an outrageous idea and adapts it to realities of modern day life while pinpointing with amazing clarity all the absurdities of today’s celebrity worship culture. The story is told by people who’ve worked in the entertainment business, which makes the viewer feel like they’ve experienced life from inside after watching it.

There are so many ingeniously funny moments that it is hard to pick only one in fact you have to watch the movie several times in order to appreciate all of its subtly and satirical nuances. I loved the scene where Rupert talks to cardboard cutouts of Liza Minnelli and Langford as he pretends to be on their show or when he imagines doing his routine in front of an audience while speaking to a blown-up picture of a crowd of people. The segment in which Rupert arrives at Langford’s home unannounced is equally good and was entirely ad-libbed by the cast. The scene involving Langford’s kidnapping and subsequent ‘ransom’ note, which he must read from cue cards is also hilarious and Rupert’s wedding that he imagines being done live on the Langford show is a terrific send-up of the real-life wedding between Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki that occurred on ‘The Tonight Show’ on December 17, 1969.

Director Scorsese does a masterful job of jumping from the real to surreal as well as allowing the viewer to get inside Rupert’s head and appreciating the warped logic that many obsessed fans like him have. I also enjoyed the inspired casting including having Scorsese’s own mother playing the voice of Rupert’s mom and De Niro’s real-life wife at the time playing Rupert’s would-be girlfriend. Frederick De Cordova who was the producer of ‘ The Tonight Show’ during its run with Johnny Carson essentially plays himself as Langford’s producer and even Scorsese can be spotted during a brief bit with actor Tony Randall.

Lewis is interesting in his first serious role and it’s fun seeing a picture of him when he was only 12-years-old. Comedian Sandra Bernhard is surprisingly good and I enjoyed the fact that even though her character was nutty she still came off as being quite sensible when compared to Pupkin. De Niro though steals it by making psychotic character seem strangely likable.

The few drawbacks include why at 34 would Rupert suddenly decided to break into the entertainment business and what was he doing before this. The Bernhard character also needed more of a backstory especially when we find that she’s living in a luxurious apartment and apparently loaded with money, which goes against the grain of most celebrity stalkers who are almost always on society’s fringe.

The humor may not resonate with everyone, but if one is a fan of dark comedy then it doesn’t get much darker than this. The twist ending, which blew me away when I first saw this years ago, now doesn’t seem quite as believable, but the rest of it is on-target in what is clearly a top comedy to of the ‘80s.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Scorsese

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Romancing the Stone (1984)

romancing the stone

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance novelist has adventure.

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a romance novelist living her love life out through her characters because she fails to have one of her own. One day she receives a mysterious treasure map in the mail and then gets a call stating that her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) has been kidnapped and will only be released once her captors receive the map. Joan then travels down to Columbia where Elaine is being held and bumps into Jack (Michael Douglas) a rugged adventurer who helps her navigate her way through to jungle while falling in love with her in the process.

The most interesting aspect to the film may actually be in the backstory of its screenwriter Diane Thomas who seemed to live both the Hollywood dream and tragedy all at the same time. She was working as a waitress while struggling as a would-be screenwriter during her off hours. Then one day by chance actor Michael Douglas arrived at her café as one of her customers and seeing this as her one chance to break into the business she pitched her idea, which later became this movie, to him and he loved it. She was eventually able to sell it for $250,000 and as an added bonus Douglas brought her a Prosche, which she ended up being killed in during a car accident that occurred only 1 year after this film was released.

As a story though this thing is quite weak and barely passes for a plot at all and really is just more of some high-end adventure concepts strung together. It’s pretty much bubblegum on a fifth graders level and if you stop to think about it all it will quickly become quite empty-headed.

Turner’s performance and her nerdy character is the best thing about it. Unfortunately the character changes too quickly shifting into a more confident and secure woman by the midway point and thus losing its comic edge. Her relationship with Jack is initially interesting as well as they have very divergent personalities and approaches to things, but this too gets lost when the romance between the two becomes full-throttle making the film’s whole second half seem more like a feminist fantasy than an actual movie.

Danny Devito is amusing and needed more screen time. However, the ironic ways he keeps accidently bumping into the main characters starts to become a little too convenient. Holland Taylor is fun as Joan’s snarky agent and I wished her character had gone along with Joan on the adventure. The bad guys though are dull and generic and create no type of fun tension at all.

The story as a whole is just too cutesy and lacks any type of real conflict or excitement. Had Jack and Joan’s sparring been played up more and only turned into a romance at the very end, or even just approaching it in a satirical vein to all the romance novels out there I might have gotten more into it. Female viewers may take to this better as it seems completely geared for them. Unfortunately though it becomes too slick for its own good while failing to have any footing in reality, which ultimately makes it cease to feel like any type of real adventure at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Zemekis

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video