Movie Review: Indiana Jones et le royaume du crâne de cristal
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Really, it would have been fantastic if the new Indiana Jones movie had turned out gangbusters. Failing that, a good, solid sequel would have been nice - proof that a handsomely graying collection of world-class cinematic entertainers, both behind and in front of a defiantly non-digital camera, were right to haul out the fedora and the bullwhip for one more adventure.
But the movie with the title that does not know when to quit, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," does not know when to quit. Nor does it extract much fun from a cockamamie story provided by George Lucas involving aliens, the lost golden city of El Dorado, the Red Menace and the greaser-kid (played by Shia LaBeouf) Indy never knew he had (though the globe-trotting archeologist is certainly the last in the film to figure that out).
Even with Cate Blanchett refusing to blink even once and Natasha Fatale-ing her way through the role of a Soviet mind-control expert with the worst haircut since Ish Kabibble, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is so nervous about falling into the quicksands of camp that it forgets to deliver a good time. "Same old, same old," mutters Harrison Ford during a pause in the derring-do in this disappointingly humorless sequel, which premiered in an out-of-competition slot Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival. Same old, same old is right.
Nineteen years have passed since "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," which apparently now must be retitled "Indiana Jones and the Second-to-Last Crusade," sent Indy and his dad, played by Sean Connery, off into the sunset. Connery did not return for "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," but Karen Allen is back as Indy's sparring partner, Marion, the one who ran the Himalayan saloon and never quit arguing. She and Indy pick right up where they left off, arguing.
The new film begins in 1957 Nevada. On an Air Force nuclear test site, the Russians force a kidnapped Indy and his colleague (played by Ray Winstone) to locate a crystal skull inside a vast warehouse (holding that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" thingie, still). The crystal skull comes from Out There - take that, upcoming "X Files" movie! - and holds the key to eternal power and limitless knowledge. The rest of the skulls are down south, so Indy and his nemeses hightail it down to Peru, down the Amazon, down into sand pits, anthills with giant speedy killer ants, over three waterfalls, one after another.
There's no lack of activity in "Crystal Skull." Its soundstage interiors (mixed in with the location shooting) carry a reassuringly fakey air, and they are lit by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski with so much pearly white light, the characters threaten to turn into Stanley Kubrick's Star Children. But in between frenetic action scenes, you have to endure treasure-hunting exchanges such as the malt-shop dialogue between Indy and the kid, Mutt (LaBeouf), whose first appearance on a motorcycle rips off Brando in "The Wild One." The dialogue doesn't even try to make its story points with any flair. "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Exposition" is more like it.
That sequence devolves into a greasers-versus-jocks melee that director Steven Spielberg cuts away from as quickly as possible. The film's best action sequence follows, however, and tellingly it's also the simplest, involving Ford and LaBeouf on a motorcycle being pursued by Russkies. For five minutes, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" relies on old-style kinetics and a couple of sharply executed stunts involving Indy climbing off and on the motorcycle.
That scene knows what it's doing, but a lot of the picture veers uneasily between solemnity and slapstick and 47 different genres. One second we're treated to Russians on fire; a few seconds later, it's comic-relief reaction shots of computer-generated prairie dogs. Indy stumbles onto a nuclear test site (echoes of the old Mickey Rooney vehicle from the '50s, "The Atomic Kid") and survives an A-bomb attack. Queasy stuff, and Spielberg's touch is unsure; something's off in this scene. It doesn't jibe with attempts at old-school cliffhanging, such as Blanchett's "Captain Blood" duel with LaBeouf. By the time Blanchett's suffering the wrath of aliens, those who remember "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) may be thinking: been there, melted that.
And John Hurt! As the addlebrained holy fool who guides his old pal Indy to where the skulls are, he must say with a straight face: "No more forever waiting. Soon now." So they couldn't get Connery, but they made room for Yoda? "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is not slovenly in terms of craft, but this script fails its interpreters utterly. Indiana Jones - let's be honest - never was a memorable movie character. He was, however, a sturdy vessel for our nostalgia, and for Spielberg's ability to shine up old serialized goods. This time, same old, same old. Would that sequel No. 3 were as stylish as that fedora.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for adventure violence and scary images).
Running time: 2:03.
Starring: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones); Cate Blanchett (Irina Spalko); Shia LaBeouf (Mutt Williams); Karen Allen (Marion); Ray Winstone (Mac Michale).
Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by David Koepp; story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson; photographed by Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Frank Marshall and Denis L. Stewart. A Paramount Pictures release.