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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (7/10)

by Tony Medley

When you have a franchise, it’s real easy. You just keep making the same film over and over and over again and people flock to see it. If the first was good, moviegoers apparently don’t pay much attention to the others, so long as they resemble the first. Director Steven Spielberg has already made this movie three times. His first, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) had Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) try to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. Since the Ark of the Covenant is like the Holy Grail, something that has been reputed to exist for millennia, and since the Nazis really did exist, the story had some sort of basis in fact and people could willingly believe what was going on.

Spielberg's follow-ups were smash hits, but on shakier ground as far as the stories were concerned. This one is ludicrous, so I won’t even try to synopsize the plot. The scenery is beautiful, the special effects look wonderfully expensive, and the quips are vintage Harrison Ford. But the plot is so ridiculous that as it progressed my interest waned, up to the silly ending. Even so, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to tell a fatuous story like this will probably result in close to $1 billion in gross revenue.

In addition to the silly story, there are far too many frantic, impossible chases, seemingly one upon the other. Of course there are Steven’s obligatory scenes of lots of disgusting marauding creatures (this time, ants). Because the story is so unchallengly low-intellect, this is just two hours of chases and quips, updated from the first three.

Oh, Indiana’s back. And so is Karen Allen, who appeared in “Raiders,” as Indiana’s lost love interest. Then there are Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), apparently a budding young Indiana, a ditsy professor, Oxley (John Hurt, who gives his usual exceptional performance), KGB Agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, the Jeckel and Hyde of actresses. I couldn’t figure out if she was channeling Lotte Lenya in 1963’s “From Russia With Love” or Greta Garbo in 1939’s “Ninotchka”). Here she leaves me cold, although she does a workmanlike job of creating a papier mâché character, a cold-blooded Communist.

This thing has one chase after another, each more preposterous than what came before. Hard to believe for such a frenetic film, but this flunked the watch test dismally. Even LaBeouf admits, “It’s very ambiguous about what’s going on.” As Shia indicates, the story turns out to be so ridiculous that it’s a waste of energy to make any effort to try to figure it out. Just enjoy the chases and quips and let it go at that. Those who do try to figure it out will be mightily disappointed when they sit through the ending.

May 20, 2008