Thursday, May 22, 2008

Get your own hat, kid.

First of all, thank you, Dr. Pepper, for the excellent deal. If you buy four 2-liter bottles of the Doctor at K-Mart, for a limited time, you get a coupon with a code. Punch in that code at a web site and you get to print out a coupon good for $7 off when you see...

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!

Not since Disney gave us critics passes have I had such a good deal. (Hey, Disney, we're still critics, how about some passes again? Please?) I paid about $2.50 per ticket. I took two friends; that's twelve bottles I gotta consume.

At any rate...a lot of critics, including the impetuous fools at Ain't It Cool News, have been knocking this film. They suffer from overinflated expectations. It is not the Second Coming. It is not a career-changing film for either Spielberg or Lucas. It will not heal the wounds in your heart left by Speed Racer. far this summer, it's the best thing that could happen.

Without giving away too much, obviously Dr. Henry Jones Jr. is in his sixties, as is Harrison Ford. But he winds up dragooned into a crazy quest, when a Russian team kidnaps him and forces him to help them out. The first third of the film contains every bit of cultural kinks you may remember about 1950's America, from commie-baiting to nuclear tests. And the dedicated Russian lady spy, Irina Spalko (Kate Blanchett) with a lesbian dominatrix pageboy haircut and a propensity for fencing.

The second third drags in a teenage biker named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf, whom I'll call "Side O' Beef" from now on). This Marlon Brando stand-in is attached to this quest because his mom is involved - and it's Indy's original old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). There's lots of prancing around in South American jungles, but sadly, not as much "local color" as previous films. The native people are either background characters or cannon fodder, people put in the way of Indy and Mutt's quest.

The final third...contains the big mystery, but let's just say it is of a piece with the 1950's pop-culture obsessions from Part 1.

This is a different, more mature Indy - as opposed to the nowhere-near-as-mature Rambo played by Stallone in that pointless sequel earlier this year. For the first time, Indy is and using the vast knowledge you'd expect an archaeologist to possess, instead of macho bluster and bar fight tricks. In fact, the fight scenes are thoughtful fight scenes. They are more about spatial orientation and physics than they are about ham-handed upper-cuts.

If you don't expect this film to forgive your sins and bring on the Rapture, you'll have a fine time at it. Certainly better than that awful Sex and the City thing.

And the title of this review? It refers to the final sequence of the film. There's been people suggesting that Spielberg and Lucas were setting up "The Adventures of Indiana Jones III" using Side O' Beef as the star. The final scene plays with that suggestion, but ultimately discards it. As it should be. Because the 1960's and JFK killed the hat as a fashion accessory for men, as Kurt Busiek wisely said in Astro City comics. This film says that the times are clearly changing. Instead of a hat and a whip, if there is an "Indy III" to join the ranks of Lupin III, he'll be using a comb and a switchblade.