Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Better than average

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 22, 2008 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull-- the fourth movie about Henry Jones, Jr. -- is as comfortable as an old shoe. Or an old hat.

Actually it is old hat. It's comfortable, but it's also worn and slack.

The latest Indy Jones movie is like a fourth marriage --  a not-too-optimistic ride over familiar territory.

The Indiana Jones franchise, which started as special ham, is now spam.

The new Indiana adventure begins in 1957, as a military convoy is going to a base in Nevada. We see Russians, and the skullduggery is set in motion. Indy has been kidnapped by the Russkies to help them find a fateful case that contains an important secret. Indy escapes -- one of the 712 escapes in the movie-- and later we see him in class at a university teaching archaeology. But Indy is victimized by the rampant red-baiting scare of the late 1950s, and he is removed from his position at the university.

On his way out of town, he meets Mutt Williams (Shia LaBoeuf), a young man who has a letter from an old, former colleague of Indy. The colleague may have found a telltale crystal skull that could lead to an archaeologist's dream. Mutt also tells Indy that his own mother has been kidnapped. So Indy and Mutt team up in their pursuit to a foreign land. Caves, waterfalls, monkeys, ants, skulls, natives, Russians, mountain roads, and extra-terrestrials provide them obstacles.

Yes, extra-terrestrials. I think I saw the kitchen sink flying through the air.

I know Indiana Jones pays homage to serials, but the waterfall sequence is silly. Serials should not be silly. Director/honcho Steven Spielberg may have left a lot of his imagination back in some theatre at a Saturday matinee.

Harrison Ford, as Indy, smirks more than usual and keeps saying lines such as, “I don't think this is good.” He may be evaluating the movie.

Karen Allen reprises her role as Marion Ravenwood, but she just seems giddy to be back. Fine young actor Shia LaBoeuf goes through awkward paces as a young “greaser.” Combing his hair is shtick that doesn't work. He's no Edd “Kookie” Byrnes. Shia's initial appearance on a motorcycle looking like Brando in The Wild Ones (1954) is clever, but it's downhill from there.

Generally Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has perhaps the best cast of any of the Indy films, but it fails to give them any memorable dialogue.

Cate Blanchett is one-dimensional as the Russian Villainess Irina Spalko, Stalin's favorite “scientist.” John Hurt as Indy's colleague Oxley, can only say. “Henry Jones, Jr” so many ways. Jim Broadbent is the only actor who prevails as he humanizes Indy's university dean.

The one totally negligible actor is Ray Winstone, who makes Indy's friend Mac dull. He's a very weak link. The best performances are given by the monkeys and the ants.

One bit of trivia is that Spielberg's daughter Sasha -- one of five children he has with Kate Capshaw -- has a brief bit as a girl in a brawl. Her right hook should make her dad proud. She just turned 18 about a week ago.

Veteran screenwriter David Koepp -- War of the Worlds (2005), Jurrasic Park (1993), Mission Impossible (1996) -- is a retread specialist. He's competent but undistinguished. Too many scenes in Crystal Skull are talky and listless.

Characters talk the Mayan language so we can't understand all the nonsense. Some of the dialogue is priceless, since nobody would buy it. Indy asks about the ETs, “Where did they go?”

Oxley answers, “Not into space. Into the space between spaces.”

I guess I needed a Mayan translator.


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