Fans of the “Indiana Jones” series rejoice: After a 19-year absence, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg are back for a fourth installment with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” an entertaining throwback that feels as comfortable as an old varsity letter jacket. Sure, the material is familiar, but this is a case where that familiarity is part of the charm.
“Crystal Skull” picks up in 1957, 19 years after the last “Indiana Jones” film, with famed archeologist Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones barely escaping a close scrape with Soviet agents led by Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) on a remote Nevada airfield.
Jones returns home only to find his recent activities have made him the object of suspicion.
On his way out of town, Jones meets a James Dean-type named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), who seeks the archeologist’s help in finding his mother and a family friend.
Jones agrees and quickly finds himself entangled in a quest to uncover the secrets behind mysterious artifacts known as crystal skulls, with Spalko and her cohorts from the Soviet Union in hot pursuit trying to get the skulls for themselves.
Anyone who has ever seen an “Indiana Jones” film will most likely be able to tell exactly where “Crystal Skull” is going, but it doesn’t really matter with a film like this. The familiarity the audience has with the material is part of the nostalgic charm that makes this work.
It’s great to see Ford, who turns 66 in December, back in his element for one last run and just as exciting to see Karen Allen reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood from the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Blanchett is a great addition as Indy’s nemesis, while LaBeouf’s performance was a little grating at first, but grew on me as the film progressed.
The real star of “Crystal Skull” is three extended action sequences that really make the film tick.
The first sequence in the opening moments of “Crystal Skull” brought back the 10-year-old in me who loved “Raiders” so much.
The second sequence, a chase through the Amazon jungle, is a lot of fun, too - reminiscent of the water wheel sequence in the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” film.
The final sequence has a payoff that is out there even more than “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” but still has a coolness factor that makes it easy to overlook its rather bizarre conclusion.
I didn’t come away with the same “Wow” reaction that I did to the recent smash “Iron Man,” but “Crystal Skull” still left me with a nostalgic and satisfied feeling. This “Indiana Jones” film may not be quite up to the bar of the previous three, but it is still one trip down memory lane worth taking.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” (B-), a sequel that manages to work just enough to make it a worthy rental.
This follow-up to “National Treasure” follows treasure hunter Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) on his quest to save his family’s name after a missing page from diary of John Wilkes Booth surfaces and Ben’s great-grandfather is suddenly implicated as a conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s death.
The quest leads him and his crew across the world, trying to stay one step ahead of a group determined to stain the Gates family name forever.
I wasn’t a fan of the original “National Treasure,” mainly because I felt like it was trying to be another “Indiana Jones”-type action film with a touch of “The DiVinci Code.” But for some reason, this film won me over. Maybe I was just in the right frame of mind when I watched it or maybe it was helped by the fact it was far better than “Alien vs. Predator,” “P.S. I Love You” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks” (other films that opened around the same time as “National Treasure.”).
The cast helps the cause, with Cage having a lot of fun. Throw in Jon Voight and Helen Mirren (as Ben’s mom and dad), Ed Harris and Harvey Keitel and it is easy to forgive a film that tries to be a little too complex for its own good.
“Book of Secrets” isn’t going to be remembered as an all-time great film, but it serves its purpose by entertaining its intended audience. What more can you ask of a film?
“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is rated PG for some violence and action and is now available on DVD.