Monday, May 26, 2008

Reel Thoughts: From Russia With Love

It was really nice of Steven Spielberg to provide me with my next Halloween costume! Cate Blanchett as Dr. Irina Spalko, in a gray jumpsuit and sleek black bob, is ready-made for drag impersonation, even without her "moose and squvirrel" Natasha accent! She’s just one reason to love the latest Indiana Jones chapter, but not the only one. Harrison Ford is virtually resuscitated as an actor by donning the fedora and whip, and I can just hear fiancĂ©e Calista Flockhart saying, "Honey, bring HIM to bed with you tonight!" Ford’s having a ball, and it’s great to see.

The story of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will not surprise anyone who grew up watching those cheesy "documentaries" like Chariot of the Gods?, which is emblematic of its not-very-challenging reach. Set in 1957, the film finds Indy an older but not much wiser professor who gets caught up in Commie hysteria when he is kidnapped by Russians and taken to Area 51 to help them steal a crystal skull with psychic properties. Blanchett’s Dr. Spalko is a fabulous but underdeveloped expert in mind control, and she is convinced that the skull holds the secret to a new level of warfare. Jones is also called upon to save an old friend by a young greaser named Mutt, played by it-boy Shia LaBeouf. The single-minded story takes them to South America where they seek out the fabled city of El Dorado and also Mutt’s missing mother, who ends up being a familiar face.

Crystal Skull is a fairly entertaining chapter in the saga, with funny and exciting action sequences, but like its star, it doesn’t strain itself too much. It’s great to see the old faces and achieve some closure to certain characters, but if you’re hoping for some unforgettable images like melting Nazis, pulsing hearts ripped from chests, or even a little Cole Porter crooned in Mandarin Chinese, you’ll be disappointed. The ending is a letdown, given the dramatic climaxes of the previous films, and Spielberg messes up by not using Blanchett and her character’s "powers" more. Still, it does have a warm, cozy coda that serves as a nice final image to the saga, and guess what, not an Ewok in sight!

UPDATE: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is now available on DVDfrom

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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