Photograph by David James
CLICK IT OR TICKET: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) defies the rules of the road in 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' while Shia LeBeouf and Karen Allen hang on for dear life.
A fast start leads to dashed hopes in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'
By Richard von Busack
THERE IS NOTHING like the first 20 minutes of a Steven Spielberg film for raising hopes, just like the remaining hour-plus is matchless for dashing them. The opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes our hero and tosses him into the 1950s era of Kiss Me Deadly. Spielberg and producer/co-writer/gray eminence George Lucas implicitly comment on the more sober, disillusioned nation that is watching this film. The first shot matches Mt. Paramount with a prairie-dog hill. The rodents are scattered by a hot rod blaring Elvis' "Hound Dog" as a carload of teens weaves in and out through a military convoy. After the thrill seekers' car veers off, the soldiers head west; the camera rises to take in the sun-blasted metal advertising sign for "The Famous Atomic Café." The soldiers turn out to be Russkies, led by "Stalin's fair-haired girl," Col. Irina Spalko (Cates Blanchett), a psi-warrior who has dragged Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) to the famous Area 51 base. Jones' tools includes his usual bullwhip and a rocket sled. In the film's key moment of ingenuity, Jones escapes the ultimate death trap, using an everyday household appliance. From that point, the movie gets into its action-packed rut and stays there. Gently blacklisted by an ungrateful U.S. government, Jones prepares to leave his post at Marshall University (played by Yale).
A motorcycle-jacket-clad ruffian called Mutt (Shia LeBeouf) finds Indy and informs him of a disappeared professor, kidnapped in the Amazon jungle. This starts the ball rolling as inexorably as the giant boulder that chased Indiana back in his first adventure, in 1981; it comes to a grinding halt with the cast indicating awe at the sight of an ILM digital effect they haven't seen before. The only way to get similar awe in the audience is for us to pretend we haven't seen anything like it either.
Spielberg stages the straightforward Chariot of the Gods plot with all the personality of a Motel 6, using savages gibbering their way through the backlot. While it is fun to see Blanchett in a butch version of a Louise Brooks coiffure and to hear her do the trans-Urals accent, it's too bad screenwriter David Koepp couldn't have figured out a way to get her to use sweeter methods to extract the truth out of Indiana Jones. Ford may be considered too old for a love scene, but he's not too old to be flirted with. But that's the Lucas/Spielberg creed when they are up to this retrograde geekery: girls are icky. The moment where Jones confesses his love to a lady he hasn't seen in some 20 years is maybe Ford's all-time low for disingenuous acting. Spielberg matches this scene with a closing scene showing the old adventurer coming home, with the inevitable lunge for a sequel. The stay-in-school message would ring a lot more true in a film that didn't contain a motorcycle chase through the Yale library.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (PG-13; 124 min.), directed by Steven Spielberg, written by David Koepp, George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson, photographed by Janusz Kaminski and starring Harrison Ford, Shia LeBeouf and Cate Blanchett, opens May 22.
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