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Cracking Skull 

by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & f what you expect from an Indiana Jones movie is big-budget action with loads of visual effects, impossible life-and-death situations in which the heroes are vastly outnumbered by the bad guys -- in this case, Cold War-era Russkies, poison dart-shooting Mayan Indians and man-eating red ants -- then you'll get what you came for.





And if what you expect from a Steven Spielberg film is amazing stuntwork, far-flung location shooting, and the director's tendency to get, let's say, excessive -- well, you'll get that too. A loads-of-fun follow-up to the first three Indy films, Crystal Skull has bigger explosions, more falling rocks, and way more icky stuff. It also has some characters (Ray Winstone's Mac) and gigantic set pieces (a big climax involving "inter-dimensional beings") that it could do without.





But I'm not complaining. Without even having seen a trailer, I knew what I was in for, and I was relishing it. Crystal skulls (with magical powers) from a mythical lost city in the Amazon, an extinct pre-Colombian language, tight spots followed by narrow escapes, peril on top of peril, massive but bloodless violence committed mostly on the bad guys after they've done it to some good guys, creepy skeletons -- keep bringin' 'em on, Steven!





And he does, with glee, and with the knowledge that as the world's most popular and powerful and successful director, he can do anything he wants. Yet warts and all, he's also one of the best storytellers in the history of cinema and he surrounds himself with the best film artists who make sure that his films look cracking good.





Our archaeologist-professor hero (Harrison Ford, looking and acting only slightly creaky) is first seen just after he's been (literally) dragged into action by gun-toting Russians, under the command of cold-as-ice Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, looking pretty hot in her tight gray jumpsuit, black boots, and pageboy haircut). This is 1957 -- you can tell from Elvis' Hound Dog blaring from the radio in a carful of teens at the beginning -- and she's a psychic research scientist who's looking for a box of mummified remains that are stored away in a massive warehouse. Indy fans will note that it's undoubtedly the warehouse seen in the final shot of the original film. Those who don't blink at the wrong time will also catch a glimpse of a certain "lost ark." Raiders fans will also enjoy Spielberg and Ford paying passing (and funny) tribute to Indy's continuing disdain for snakes ("I hate snakes," he shouted to a pilot in the first film).





The story of the Russians depending on Dr. Jones to find what they want, and the subsequent adventures that he and his cohorts take part in, are all done with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, a scowl on Indy's face, and grim determination on Spalko's.





Transportation seems to be the main motif. Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) appears on a motorcycle, all Brandoed up and looking for Indy's help; a number of different high-speed chases involve cars and trucks; a spectacular rip-snorting sequence has fast-moving machines hurtling through a jungle, accompanied by sword fights, bursts of gunfire and vine-swinging monkeys.





Those concerned about Ford really being too old for the part needn't worry. (It's his stunt double doing most of the hard work.) But to his credit, there's no doubt that Ford is doing a few of his own. Spielberg lets him and the returning Karen Allen, as the formerly hard-drinking Marion Ravenwood, do what they do best -- squabble (even though they obviously want to tear each other's clothes off). And he wisely reels in LaBeouf from overacting the way Michael Bay permitted in Transformers.





Viewers looking to nitpick will have a field day with the fact that the film -- make that Indy -- keeps supplying answers to questions even before they're asked (or even without being asked). But that's the kind of thing that makes these films so much fun. Everything about the series has had its ante upped -- from the budget to the action to the comedy. So Indy isn't exactly on the mark when he looks around at one point and says to no one in particular, "Same old same old."





INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL


Rated PG-13


Directed by Steven Spielberg


Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LeBoeuf
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