USA Network's The Diamond of Jeru
sparkles as a pretty good adventure yarn, but one that's not quite of Tiffany quality.
From its opening credits — in yellow-and-orange lettering similar to those in Raiders of the Lost Ark
and its sequels — USA's movie invites comparison to the Indiana Jones
trilogy. But Diamond
needs polishing to measure up to the personality and special-effects of those epics.
That said, the screenplay, adapted from one of Louis L'Amour's few non-Western works by his son Beau, is mostly enjoyable. Billy Zane does a fine job in a rare lead role as the diamond-hunting Mike Kardec, and Keith Carradine and Paris Jefferson also acquit themselves well as a wealthy, unhappily married couple.
The story starts with Kardec being sought as the guide for an American scientist, John Lacklan (Carradine) and his attractive wife Helen (Jefferson). The couple wants to find a raw diamond as a way, we soon learn, to spark their flagging marriage.
Jealous over the seeming chemistry between his wife and Kardec, Lacklan suddenly chooses another guide, a young man from Borneo's Dyak tribe who promises to find a 20-karat diamond. But once taken deep into the jungle, the Lacklans become fearful. Helen at one point snaps that John has been suspicious of everyone but the sinister guides he's hired.
Meanwhile, Kardec learns from friendly natives — Inghai and his grandson Raj, who nearly two years earlier saved Kardec's life — that the Lacklans' guide actually is the nephew of Jeru, a renegade chieftain.
But not before the producers cook up fake suspense in a scene in which Kardec and Raj are about to be attacked by natives. They turn out to be Inghai's tribe — and yet they seemingly don't recognize Raj.
An hour into the movie, Inghai is beheaded by Jeru's followers, who believe they gain power by taking their victims' noggins. So while the Lacklans are seeking diamonds, the Dyaks see the scientist's head as valuable.
Though outnumbered, Kardec and Raj rescue the Lacklans and all escape into the jungle. There they stumble upon a bat-infested cave that just happens to contain enough kerosene to generate a fireball that scares thousands of the flyers out of the cave. That "magic" spooks the superstitious Dyaks.
In the end, we're left unsatisfied regarding the fate of the murderous Jeru.
USA has set Diamond of Jeru
for a Nov. 6 bow at 9 p.m.