A review of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for violence and frightening images

Run Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

 

 

Summer blockbusters are notoriously critic-proof; appealing to diversion-starved masses no matter how often they’re warned away.

That said all that matters in the case of the fourth installment of the over-the-top adventures of reluctant swashbuckler Indiana Jones is if Harrison Ford still has the stuff.

And he does. Ford reprises his role of the derring-do professor of archeology with wry panache, kicking it off circa 1957 with a dazzling escape from a group of Russian communist soldiers searching for an ancient artifact that may hold the key to mysterious intelligence of the great beyond.

Indy – man of nine lives -- eludes the grasp of assailants and hails of bullets with effortless aw-shucks ease. But his quest comes with a price as his nemesis will not be thwarted, and he is a she. Rapier wielding Russian agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) is Stalin’s fair-haired girl, a whip-smart dominatrix with an unquenchable thirst for global control.

While a cast of thousands (or so it appears) frantically and futilely searches for a mythical crystal skull stolen in the 15th or 16th century and struggles to untangle twisted riddles in dead languages Indy makes the acquaintance of biker-boy Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), an insolent punk dispatched by his mother to enlist Indy’s help in rescuing loony-tunes colleague Professor Oxley (John Hurt).

From then on its stock buddy exploits mired in a virtual fun house of special effects and classic clichés – grave robbing on a dark and stormy night, battling swarms of man-eating roaches, bluescreen chase spectaculars and the ubiquitous long lost love interest (Karen Allen still cute-as-a-button as Marion Ravenwood)

Not that this “Indy” isn’t without its charms. A preposterous atomic bomb test site vignette turns to a chilling, mushroom-cloud ode to Cold War politics. The plot plays its heir apparent card with a clever wink and a nudge (sequel!) while nostalgia reigns supreme with the return of Allen.

Blanchett is the real deal – strong and sinister and every inch the James Bond-esque villainess, she of the icy malevolence and no-nonsense bob. Intrepid hero Indy (aka Henry Jones, Jr.) has sexagenarian appeal to spare, drolly wisecracking his way from one near calamity to the next.

But the relentless stream of exaggerated action is as taxing as the punchline-laden script. Production design is a mind-boggling display of computer-generated overkill; D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” meets George Lucas’ madcap psyche and sure to be playing at a theme park near you.