‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ is a long title but not a lot o’ plot

OK, I’ve held off long enough. Time to review Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which I caught at a press screening Sunday.

Should the film, opening tonight, be on your must-see list? Why, of course, if you’re a fan of this franchise. How can you not see the first and only Indy movie since its original ’80s run as one of the greatest action-adventure trilogies of all time?

Now, is it worth all the fuss? Why, no. Overlong, charm-challenged and plot-anemic, the film falls into a gratingly familiar category of bloated action epics with scads of effects yet very little meaning and not much story going on. Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?

Basically, Harrison Ford’s Indy, now 19 years older in 1957, must find a thing and then get a thing to a certain place– and that’s it. How original. Get the Death Star plans to the Rebel base. Get the ring to Mordor. Get me outta here! And in this case, very little of that thing (the skull) makes much sense, which should be no surprise. This was co-written by George Lucas, who is not to plotting and screenwriting what Steven Spielberg is to directing. Stevie, bless his heart, did his best, as does a game cast, especially rapier-wielding Soviet bad-gal Cate Blanchett, who at least has the film’s best hair. But after a promising first 20 minutes, the film goes nowhere except to the next big SPFX and CG scene. When an Indy movie makes it hard to stay awake because it’s so uninvolving, something is clearly wrong.

Plus, unlike Star Trek II, in which the characters’ age became a distinct issue, in this one, it’s briefly mentioned that Indy is older, yet almost never acknowledged in any real-world way. This guy has been quietly teaching for two decades and is clearly at least in his 50s (Ford is 65), yet he can kick butt like always without a wince — and he used to wince a lot, his vulnerability making Indy so initially lovable and disarming. Plus, about seven million bullets are fired his way, and not one nicks him. The old guy is simply too fast.

I will give Lucas and company credit for defying the agism of Hollywood and bringing back Karen Allen from 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, still the series’ best movie. In Tinseltown, men are allowed to age, but not women. She’s aged and she’s back, as spunky as ever. Thanks for that, at least.

But Shia LaBeouf is woefully miscast as a tough-guy motorcycle-riding ’50s greaser whose entry in the story is contrived and serves only to feed Lucas and Spielberg’s obsession for daddy issues. This guy made even Transformers sing with comedy and contemporaneity. Here, he’s a humorless fifth wheel being used for youth-crowd marketing.

Hey, the action is great — no denying that. But a film can’t be all about action and effects and very little about character, story and charm. That’s been a problem for Lucas productions since all his yes-men helped enable the disastrously dull Star Wars prequels’ plots and characters (“George, that step-and-fetch-it Jar Jar is a stitch!”), and it’s still a problem now.

The Indy franchise won’t suffer — it’s too big for that, and people will want to see this film in spite of itself. Hey, I would, too, if I hadn’t already. But if you love this character and what he stands for — good old-fashioned action-adventure with a rakish sense of fun and a soaring sense of wonder — then revisit the originals via those DVDs on your shelf. Now that’s how it’s done.

 

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One Response to “‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ is a long title but not a lot o’ plot”

  1. patrick Says:

    it would seem that the recipe of a good Indiana Jones film would be 1 part Nazis and 1 part Biblical Artifact… the Soviet army does a pretty good job of replacing the Nazis, but the other ingredient…

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