INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL * * *
Cert 12A, 122 mins
Nineteen years and countless rumours since the Last Crusade, Harrison Ford finally dons the fedora again, reuniting with Spielberg and Lucas for a fourth adventure by the whip-wielding archaeologist.
Filmed under watertight security the end result could never possibly hope to live up to the anticipation created by the advance hype. However, the surprise is just how disappointing it turns out to be.
Catching up in real time, the year is 1957, Indiana’s older and, judging by how slow he is to catch on to the subsequent plot developments, not especially wiser.
Launching right in, he and former – and possibly not trustworthy – spying buddy George ‘Mac’ McHale (Ray Winstone) have been abducted by a gang of Commies who, headed by sword wielding KGB mind-control specialist Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett camping it up Saturday morning serial style in a Louise Brooks bob) want him to lead them to the location of something hidden in a crate in Hangar 51. You remember, the place where the Lost Ark ended up at the end of Raiders.
Jones escapes only to run smack into an atom bomb test, Spielberg setting the cartoon tone by having him survive by hiding inside a fridge, crawling out unharmed despite it having been blown across the Nevada desert.
However, now he’s on the FBI’s bad books by association, is given an indefinite sabbatical from his teaching job and is about to head off to find a new job when the main thrust of the plot kicks into gear.
With Sean Connery declining to return as Jones’ dad (he’s killed off in a brief aside), a new sidekick’s needed. So enter Shia LeBoeuf unwisely homaging Brando in The Wild One as Mutt, a cocky Harley riding greaser with news that a mutual friend, Prof Oxley (John Hurt doing demented again) and his mom are being held captive in South America by those pesky Reds, who are apparently after the Crystal Skull, a legendary odd-shaped Mayan artefact that’s got some connection to the fabled lost city of gold, El Dorado.
To be honest, I rather lost the thread around here. But judging by David Koepp’s screenplay, I’m not the only one.
Anyway, it seems the skull, which turned Oxley doolalley, needs to be returned from whence it was taken while, of course, Spalko and her goons are determined to get their hands on it and thereby gain the secret of psychic warfare, or something.
It’s all to do with Erich Von Daniken-like aliens, but before you get to that bit there’s any number of perils for our intrepid heroes to survive. Killer ants, monkey men, Apocalypto leftovers sand traps, waterfalls, and some particularly clunky dialogue among them.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Mutt’s mum is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indiana’s bit of skirt from Raiders, which of course makes him... oh, you guessed.
Spielberg and Lucas apparently wanted to go for an old fashioned look and feel. Well, if visually drab, narratively flabby, long winded, tiresomely repetitive and frequently dull is their idea of old fashioned, they succeeded perfectly.
Early scenes look like a sound stage while Ford’s stunt double couldn’t be more obvious if he had a sign on his back.
The mid-section’s slow and plodding, the plot going round in circles looking for a door to the next stage, and while the third act picks up the pace it is, basically, just one overextended and not especially coherent chase through the Amazon jungle while Spielberg tosses in visual nods to Tarzan and any Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler you care to mention.
If Mutt’s a nothing character and LaBoeuf lacks the presence to make him otherwise, and Allen’s given little to do other than bicker and smile and Koepp forgot to write Winstone a proper role, at least Blanchett’s having fun and, for the most part (and when the make-up artists have been busy), Ford does at least recapture some of the magic of one of cinema’s most loved heroes and hats.
It feels like hard work at times, however it’s good-natured enough and, while trailing behind not only Raiders but both the sequels, nostalgic fans who still cling to their VHS copies will probably have fun with what is, as Jones himself puts it, the “same old, same old.”
However, while inevitably critic proof, it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up after the opening week when younger audiences reared on the fast cut Indiana rip offs decide they’d probably have preferred National Treasure 3 after all.
DANGEROUS PARKING * * *
Cert 18, 109 mins
A long way from writer-director Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors, Laws Of Attraction and Johnny English, this is based on the late Stuart Browne’s semi-autobiographical novel and involves a torrent of aggressive expletives, drug-fuelled explicit sex and a protagonist for whom it’s really hard to feel sympathy.
Partnered by cameraman best mate Ray (Sean Pertwee), Noah Arkwright (Howitt) is an award-winning cult British filmmaker. He’s also an arrogantly obnoxious, foul-mouthed, coke-hoovering, self-absorbed, self-destructive, self-loathing alcoholic. Attempting to drunkenly score while on a lecture visit, he wakes up puking in the flat of single mom Kirstin (Rachel Stirling) who turns out to be a recovering alcoholic and persuades him to attend an AA group. It doesn’t go well.
Later, Ray arranges a meeting with famous cellist Clare (a luminous Saffron Burrows) who may well prove the angel Noah’s dead mom (Dervla Kirwan) promised during a detox hallucination. Apparently so, since they wind up married. But years of abuse have taken their toll and while he may have kicked the sauce, he can’t kick the cancer.
Told in first-person voice-over, given the frenetic pacing, and abrupt tonal shifts, it’s not an easy watch. And there’ll be retching during the vomit scene too. It’s also a challenge structurally, with a stylistically mannered amphetamined stream of consciousness flashbacks and flashforwards before settling into a linear narrative that puts chronology into context.
There’s some inspired comedy (Ray’s encounter with a horny squid and Tom Conti’s fox hunting oncologist), moments of affecting poignancy, and you have to admire Howitt’s brio.
But whether you ultimately find it uplifting or unbearable stands or falls on how you take his full on, abrasive, uncompromising performance.
Either way, it’s not one you’ll easily forget.
TIMBER FALLS * *
Cert 18, 100 mins
A couple go into the woods, take the wrong path and wind up victims of local sociopaths. Yes, been there, seen that. Many times. But at least this latest permutation on the staple horror has a different angle and even a touch of provocative social satire.
Mike (Josh Randall) and Sheryl (Brianna Brown) are the happy campers who, hiking in West Virginia, ignore the grouchy Ranger’s advice to stick to patrolled paths and take that of a woman they meet along the way. She suggests she takes the one that leads to Timber Falls, because it’s a nicer view.
Before they get there, they have a nasty encounter with three moonshiners who do the usual leering routine, make crude suggestions and insist on selling them a bottle of hooch for the contents of Mike’s wallet.
In the hours to come, the pair will look back fondly on such mild high spirited fun. Waking up the next morning, Mike finds Sheryl (who went skinny dipping early) missing and, again bumping into the redneck trio, assumes they’re responsible and dishes out some angry whupass.
They, however, are guiltless this time.
As he discovers when, having been subsequently knocked out, he awakes to find he and Sheryl captives of a Bible quoting Christian fundamentalist husband and wife (Nick Searcy, Beth Broderick) who don’t take kindly to folk swearing or having premarital sex around these parts.
But they’ve not taken them for the usual Texas Chainsaw treatments down their own private cabin dungeon. It seems the wife can’t carry a pregnancy to full-term (cue bottles of foetuses in formaldehyde) and, having carried out a quickie wedding, they want Mike and his “bitch-whore girlfriend” to consummate the marriage and bear them a child. And if they need a little encouragement, like whippings or having fingers chopped off, so be it.
Inevitably, the genre demands at least one disfigured, blade-wielding, sex crazed psycho, so the woman has a deformed brother (Sascha Rosemann) who patently doesn’t share the same views about premarital nookie with helpless captives.
The rest plays out fairly as you might expect with abortive escape attempts followed by eventual gore-splattered payback and the sequel threat final shot.
While peppered with plot holes (it’s an impractical plan at best, not least because they’ll have to keep their captives secure for nine months), it is at least decently acted and, when, after days of torturing, the religious nutters are outraged at the suggestion they might perform an abortion, takes a welcome swing at the hypocrisy of America’s Moral Majority.
CASSANDRA’S DREAM *
Cert 15, 108 mins
Reports from Cannes that Vicky Cristina Barcelona announces a return to form for Woody Allen come as a relief. It’s hard to imagine things could have got any worse than this, the last of his London set moral tales.
If you thought his previous film, Scoop (which didn’t get a UK release either in cinemas or on DVD) was bad, this makes it seem like another Annie Hall.
It’s very funny. It’s just not supposed to be. Rather, this is Allen flying his Greek Tragedy colours here (he even has a conversation about Euripides at one point) and, with a plot about the effect a murder has on those responsible, it’s clearly intended as a companion piece to Crimes and Misdemeanours and Match Point. It doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph, let alone the same breath.
With performances so flat they feel like a first read-through, Ewan McGregor (Ian) and Colin Farrell (Terry) are unlikely London siblings who are looking to buy the boat they eventually name Cassandra’s Dream.
Ian works at their parents’ (John Benfield, Clare Higgins) struggling restaurant but, with upwardly mobile ambitions to get into the California hotel business, has no intentions of staying there for the rest of his life. Especially not when, passing himself off as a high-flyer, he starts romancing high-maintenance actress Angela (Hayley Atwell).
Working as a car mechanic (boss Jim Carter edited down to a fleeting cameo), Terry has a loyal wife, Kate (Sally Hawkins), and a gambling habit. Usually he does okay on the dogs and horses. Enough to bankroll a house of their own. But then he’s introduced to high-stakes poker and wind sup in heavy debt to the wrong sort of people.
The answer to both brothers’ monetary woes could well be globe-trotting uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), who’s made millions with his plastic surgery clinics and is paying a rare visit en route to America.
He’s willing to stump up the cash. He’ll even bankroll Terry’s dream of a sports shop. But he’d like a small favour, too. It seems his business affairs haven’t been totally above board and now an associate, Martin Burns (Phil Davis), is threatening to spill the beans. He’d like Ian and Terry to make the problem go away. Permanently.
With financial necessity outweighing moral qualms, after some prevarication the deed’s done. But, when it seems they’ve literally got away with murder, Terry starts coming over all Lady Macbeth, drinking, popping pills, talking in his sleep and determining to confess. Which, as Howard and Ian agree, is something they can’t let happen,
Narratively contrived, nothing rings true or is rooted in any semblance of reality. Allen doesn’t seem interested in his characters, so it’s hardly surprising his cast act the same, delivering the atrocious dialogue with no enthusiasm whatsoever.
Atwell may be touted as a rising star but she’s a wooden blank here while Hawkins, so good in Happy-Go-Lucky, is given barely anything to do worth making an effort. And what can be said about Wilkinson who, possessed of a severe case of Ac-torism, takes his overwrought turn from Michael Clayton and turns the dial up to 11.
To be fair, the build up to the shooting has a degree of nervous tension and the aftermath, which turns brother against brother, sustains the suspense through some clumsy soul-searching until collapsing into an abrupt finale. But, it’s not reason enough for even Allen fanatics to put themselves through the ordeal.
Those familiar with Greek mythology will recall Cassandra prophesied the destruction of Troy. Pity Allen didn’t have her on the payroll.