Movie News & Reviews

It's not great, but Crystal Skull still is fun

On the scale of insanity ranging from sitting quietly on the couch towearing the cushions for pants while rounding up a neighborhood dogultra-army, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skullrates somewhere around hosting a tea party inside your sofa-fort.

Which is to say yes, it's a little weird, but it's the forgivablekind, and at least you'll come out of it well-caffeinated. There'llbe a hint of disappointment, too (scones are never as good as theyshould be) and a big dose of puzzlement (if we're going to getaristocratic, shouldn't it be a davenport-fort?), but as anexperience, it was a good one, right?

Of course, the analogy's not perfect. Nobody's been waiting for thatfourth tea party for 20-odd years, scouring the gossipy corners ofthe Internet for speculation about what kind of leaves the hosts willuse or what pattern the tablecloth will be. There wasn't arevolutionary original party that forever changed the way we servedtea.

In fact, maybe comparing Crystal Skull to a tea party was aterrible idea. Is that what you wanted to hear? Wellcongratulations, jerk, I just spent the last two hours blow-drying thetears out of my laptop. Here's your damn plot recap.

By 1957, America has mastered the atom, but the Soviets are looking toexpand the arms race into the psychic realm. Kidnapped by KGB agentCate Blanchett, Harrison Ford is forced to relocate one of his earlierfinds: the mummified body of what may be an alien.

Ford makes a dashing escape, only to be scooped up by the feds andaccused of being a Communist sympathizer. The charge costs him histeaching job. On his way out of town, he's accosted by Shia LaBeouf,a greaser punk with troubling news about John Hurt, Ford's friend andcolleague.

It seems Hurt has found a legendary crystal skull which, if returnedto its home in Eldorado, the fabled lost city of gold, will grant itsbearer great powers. Hurt and his find have been scooped up by theKGB -- and unless he leads them to the city, he'll be killed.

Ford and LaBeouf hightail it for Peru and are immediately embroiled inthe wild chases and escapes that made the Indiana Jonesfranchise a legend in its own right. As far as the action andchoreography goes, Crystal Skull can stand along any of theothers, especially in a nuke-test sequence that's awesome in both themodern and biblical senses of the word. Director Steven Spielberg is amaster of making violence that's scary, thrilling, and beautiful allat once.

In terms of raw spectacle, that mushroom cloud overshadows the rest ofthe movie, which at times feels like one interminable chase. It's anadventurous and funny chase, though; like Ford, Crystal Skull'shigh-octane archeology is no longer young, but it's still got itscharm.

Without giving too much away, the ending doesn't add up. Not becauseit's unbelievable -- frankly, you have no room to bitch about the crazyparanormal goings-on in Crystal Skull if you liked Raidersof the Lost Ark, which, in case you've forgotten, features aNazi-smiting God. (And if you don't like Raiders, that'scraziest of all.) The Incan legend of ancient teachers CrystalSkull is inspired by is no sillier than hoodoo death cults or someDark Age foofaraw about a cup that can make you immortal.

It's the logic of the ending that doesn't make sense. It's got thecomeuppance of hubris that's an Indiana Jones standard, butrather than being deserved, that punishment is almost comicallymean-spirited. One might even call it a real dick move. Rather thanbeing built up to by the plot, it feels like shallow mimicry of theearlier movies.

Nonetheless, when the credits rolled in our packed theater, there wasplenty of applause. I wouldn't go that far -- even if you can suspend(or perhaps expel) your disbelief for the supernatural finale,Crystal Skull isn't as funny or cohesive as Raiders orLast Crusade.

But who says it needs to be compared to two of the best action movies of all time? It's still fun--and that's what counts.

Grade: B