May 20, 2008, - 5:01 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Let me start by saying that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is my favorite movie (tied with “Blade Runner,” another Harrison Ford vehicle). And I didn’t think any of its sequels came close. That includes this latest one–27 years later. Too late. It debuts in theaters, Thursday.
When I wasn’t dozing off during yesterday’s Detroit movie critics screening of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystall Skull,” I couldn’t help but notice that many of the plot points are similar to those in the two “National Treasure” films.
The myth of the lost, underground city made of gold and covered with water, the hidden tomb of treasures, even a giant round levered, pivoting floor that must be balanced by the person standing on it–all of these were in the “National Treasure” original and its sequel. Yet, those films were far more exciting and interesting than the new Indiana Jones sequel, though they pale in comparison to the original “Raiders” movie.
Stodgy and gerontological Indiana Jones is now dull. His long-abandoned void has largely been replaced on the silver screen by Nicholas Cage’s starring role in the National Treasure movies. It’s true that those movies take place in present, which is not as exciting as World War II and–now, in this Indie Jones flick–the early years of the Cold War. True, Cage doesn’t have the level of good looks and machismo that Harrison Ford had in the early Indiana Jones movies. And instead of suavity and brilliance, he’s kind of a screwball.
But the 65-year-old Indie didn’t do it for me. Neither did the equally stodgy George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and, yes, Karen Allen, brought back–from her new, post-Hollywood life of knitting and selling Indian sweaters in Massachusetts–to co-star in this tired film.
And it wasn’t the title character’s chronological age that soured me. It was the old, tired, completely absurd quality of this latest script. There was no magic. It all just seemed manufactured. While this movie might have been great and novel in the ’80s, in 2008, it’s kind of old hat. And there were no cool scenes of Nazis faces melting because they took a prohibited look at the Ark–still a classic scene that stands the test of time from the original “Raiders.” There’s just no there, there.
The story starts out well enough. Indiana Jones is kidnapped by Russian soldiers who’ve snuck into America. They’re led by Russian agent Cate Blanchett, who does a terrible Russian accent that switches veers too many times back to an English accent. They’ve gone to the legendary Area 51 military base in Nevada. There they find a crystal skull they’ve been searching for. It’s the skull of an alien being. Legend has it that there’s a lost city of gold in Latin America, where other alien crystal skulls are located. Whoever unites all the skulls can possess magical powers, the story goes. When we see this 65-year-old swinging and climbing and jumping–all to thwart Russian commies, it’s almost believable.
My favorite scene in the whole movie comes next, when Indie escapes the Russians and finds himself in the middle of a nuclear testing site. The homes and the streets are populated by mannequins, and he saves himself from a nuclear bomb by packing himself inside a refrigerator. That was cool, but even that scene seems borrowed from the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes.” And it was all downhill from there, and that was like only 10 or 15 minutes into the movie. And at 2 hours, 4 minutes, the movie seemed to me like 4 hours, 2 minutes. I found it kind of slow.
We find out that Indie has a son with Karen Allen, his old girlfriend from the original Indie flick. Shia LeBeouf plays greaser Mutt (remember, it’s 1957, so the “Happy Days” dynamic abounds), but he’s kind of boring and too cutesy. If he’s being groomed to be “The Next Indiana Jones,” fuhgedaboutit. Harrison Ford, in his day, had a certain dynamic in playing the swashbuckling and appealing Indie. Women wanted to “date” him and men wanted to be him. Not even close with the geeky LeBeouf, who’s good in other movies, but seemed out of place and a formulaic insert here.
Don’t attack me for disclosing this non-spoiler about Indie’s son. It’s kinda obvious that he’s Indie’s son from when we first meet him. You don’t need to be Einstein or even Professor I. Jones, though everyone seems to get it but this archeological genius that this is his son. We see this “son he didn’t know about” gimmick in a lot of the lackluster tired franchises trying to make a comeback. Remember the awful “Superman Returns”?
The rest of the movie is a preposterous mishmash plot involving Indiana Jones, his ex-girlfriend, and their son, trying to thwart the Russians in their race to find the golden underground city in South America. There, amidst Mayan tribesmen, we also meet one of Indie’s old mentors who has gone nuts and who is the key to finding the gold city.
I don’t want to give any more away about this slow-moving, non-plot of a plot. But I will say this: the scene with the spaceship and the aliens was simply absurd. I was waiting for Richard Dreyfuss and his mashed potatoes (from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) to make an appearance. It was that bizarre. It’s simply not a good idea to throw lucite outer space aliens into the mix of something that’s supposed to be a believable movie about history and an archeological adventurer.
And one of the last lines of dialogue about how the aliens are going to “the space between spaces” was just too much New-Age BS to keep me from bursting out in laughter.
As for the snakes (there is one prominently placed on the movie poster), you’ll only see one in this flick, and it’s hardly scary.
There’s nothing offensive or objectionable about this latest “Indiana Jones” installment. And the negative portrayal of Russian communists as thugs was accurate and welcome, coming from liberal Hollywood (waiting for a similar treatment on Islamic terrorists). It’s fine family viewing.
But it just wasn’t a great movie. And given how it started, with “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” they don’t have much to show for the 19 years they waited since the last sequel.
I liked the ending of the movie. It’s what was in between that and the strong start that didn’t impress me. “Crystall Skull” simply wasn’t even as good as the previous, inferior sequels to “Raiders.”