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It's been a nineteen-year wait since the last INDIANA JONES movie, and a lot has changed - the setting has shifted from the pre-war 30's to the Cold War 50's, and Indiana Jones himself is now eligible for Medicare. But after seeing the latest in the action-adventure series, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, I wished they had waited a few more years to get the script right instead.

The problem the INDIANA JONES series faces is that there have been so many action-adventures since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK that have utilized the same formula - hard-charging action, frenetic pacing, top-flight visual effects, tongue-in-cheek humor - that the formula itself really isn't enough anymore, even with Harrison Ford's still-considerable charisma, to make a movie stand out from the pack. What's needed now is a fresh hook and a well-executed story.

Unfortunately, David Koepp's script drops the ball on both counts. When it comes to the hook, KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is the polar opposite of fresh. Imagine milk that has gone so far past its expiration date that it's curdled into a new life-form - even that doesn't begin to suggest how stale the hook is. That's because all the characters are after the magical skull of an alien who crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico and is now stashed away at Area 51. Yes, that's right, aliens and Area 51 - two things that have been so overused in recent pop culture that the mere mention of them causes the viewer's eyes to roll back into his head. This is the best plot Spielberg and Lucas could come up with after nearly twenty years - THE X-FILES with a Fedora? Don't they know that Roswell has become a UFO conspiracy cliche? They even named a TV series after the town and they still thought this was an original idea? Not content to traffic in such done-to-death conceits, KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL also tosses in the "Aliens-gave-us-our-civilization" bit that has been a standby of movies from 2001 to STARGATE, saddling the film with an even mustier feel.

The story's execution doesn't fare much better than its premise. The plot is incredibly sloppy when it comes to the details an audience needs to suspend its disbelief, especially in a franchise that often crosses the border into the supernatural and fantasy genres. Below are just a few of the more annoying examples:

Area 51 contains some of the most dangerous artifacts in the world from a national security standpoint (i.e. the Ark of the Covenant), but in KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, the only ones guarding this important base are a handful of guards and a cyclone fence!

The story then introduces Soviet villain Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, enjoyably chewing the scenery). Spalko is where she is in the KGB power structure because she has the ability to read minds. But after she tries and fails to read Indy's noggin, this ability is never brought up again. Did Spalko suddenly forget she had this power? Why did the filmmakers introduce this element if they weren't going to pay it off later?

And what about Indy's son, "Mutt" Williams (Shia LaBeouf, more twerp in leather than 50's rebel)? One scene shows him totally clueless when it comes to nature - he doesn't know that the larger the scorpion, the more harmless it is. But later in the picture, Mutt's eagle eye can tell the difference between a deadly snake and one that poses no more danger than a cuddly kitten. So did Mutt suddenly pick up a degree in Zoology between these scenes?

Even when it comes to the action the details are shoddy. During the jungle chase, Mutt catches up to a speeding vehicle by swinging from vine to vine like Tarzan! This is not only beyond implausible, but also the CGI used to "sell" this sequence looks utterly fake. And why do the monkeys attack the Russians and no one else? Because they hate Commies?

The reason KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is the weakest in the INDIANA JONES series can be summed up in one sentence - if the filmmakers don't care about what they put up on the screen, why should the audience?

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is finally finishing up a really awesome novel.


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