Implausible Indy: Ike-Era Ford Fights Russians, Aliens

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Running Time 124 minutes
Written by David Koepp
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf

As summer time-wasters go, the latest Indiana Jones will go in record time, if you ask me. Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the first chapter in the series since 1989, is a four-star yawn. Harrison Ford started this fairy-tale franchise 27 years ago. At 65, he looks pretty darn trim, but why doesn’t he stop dyeing his hair? Sometimes it’s a rugged, manly silver. In the next scene it looks like he’s wearing a champagne rinse from Elizabeth Arden. Finally it turns orange as a Sunkist popsicle. Whatever else we expect from Indiana Jones, we don’t want him to look like Lucille Ball.

The movie itself makes no sense, but what escapist summer movie does? It’s now 1957 in a secret military base in either Nevada or New Mexico (the movie is not too clear on the subject of details), closed for atomic weapons testing. An Air Force hangar is captured by Communist agents, led by Cate Blanchett as Stalin’s favorite Russian scientist in Buster Brown bangs. Out of a trunk in a deserted warehouse comes Indy, who stages a noisy, knuckle-cracking fight that sets off a nuclear reactor and blows up everything except his trademark brown fedora. It’s one close call too many, so Indy retires from cracking whips and battling pits of hissing cobras, and goes to work as a college professor teaching a course in archaeology. Now called Colonel Jones by the dean (Jim Broadbent), he learns that his recent activities exterminating Russians have led the U.S. government to suspect him of treason (aiding K.G.B. agents on American soil, or something like that), and the college is forced to fire him. Falsely accused, hopping mad and heading out of town, the disgraced Indy runs into a brash young hotshot in motorcycle leather named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, who looks alarmingly like Bobby Darin). Mutt’s got a proposition: Hire me and I’ll lead you to a mythical lost city in the Amazon built entirely of gold, with scientific architecture that will not be discovered for 5,000 years! There’s a secret, see, about 13 crystal skulls protected by the living dead, one of which was stolen around the time Moses either parted the Red Sea or Charlton Heston made his screen debut, whichever came first. The kid’s mother, who disappeared in the jungle, has sent him a letter written in an ancient alphabet only Indy can decode. Find the temple and he’ll find his missing Mom! Find the missing skull and Indy will make archaeological history! Of course, Ms. Blanchett, the archfiend with the bad accent, who miraculously survived the nuclear blast in Nevada (which is now referred to as New Mexico), wants Indy to translate for the Soviets, so she can discover the power of spiritual energy and control the universe. Huh? Best not to ask questions.

To make a long and very boring story short, the trail leads from a campus malt shop all the way to Peru and the burial place of the conquistador who escaped with the crystal skull—a place that may have been built by aliens that look exactly like E.T. Mr. Spielberg is smart. Never throws away his old props, puppets, or storyboards. Never know when he might need them again.

Of course, Mutt’s mother turns out to be—are you sitting down?—Indy’s long-lost girlfriend Marion (welcome back, Karen Allen). Incredulously, Mutt himself turns out to be—are you lying down?—but never mind. The script isn’t very careful about logic or coherence. The important thing is the stunts, which are a long time arriving, and all seem to have been recycled from previous (and better) Indiana Jones movies. There’s a sword fight on two separate vehicles speeding through the jungle, an attack by natives with poison darts, three death-defying crashes over waterfalls in a Jeep, a plague of man-eating red ants and a rescue by monkeys who teach Mutt to swing on vines like Bomba the Jungle Boy. Nobody suffers any wound more serious than a razor burn, and Indy always finds his fedora. It’s as contrived and convoluted as all the other Indiana Jones movies, but not as much fun.

I finally left when E.T., Ms. Blanchett in her Buster Brown bangs, and the 13 crystal skulls disappeared not only into space, but “the space between spaces.” Even when he’s dishing up corn, the director of directors usually spreads it coherently. Not this time. George Lucas’ story line is impossible to follow, and I don’t know what to make of the abysmal script by David Koepp, who once wrote dazzling, original and imaginative screenplays (Apartment Zero remains one of my favorite movies of all time) before he discovered Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible and money. This movie appears to have been written in hieroglyphics. Long on rhetoric and short on thrills, it’s an Indiana Jones adventure they all seemed to be making up as they went along.

Implausible Indy: Ike-Era Ford Fights Russians, Aliens