Capsule reviews of `Indiana Jones' and other films

May 20, 2008 6:31:19 PM PDT
Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" ? You see the hat before the hero ? that famous fedora, the one that stays put through every tricky situation, or at least at arm's length for a hasty getaway. And, of course, he still has the whip, the paralyzing fear of snakes and the catchy John Williams theme song that will surely gnaw at your brain for hours afterward. Yes, the latest "Indiana Jones" movie dives headfirst into the iconography of the franchise, which will bring a smile to your face and warm you with nostalgia. It's admittedly a pleasure to see Harrison Ford back in the role; at 65, he's grizzled and lined but certainly up for the challenge. Once you get past the initial reintroduction, though, it's obvious that this fourth film in the Indy series really has no idea where to go. Except for the opening ? which literally starts the film off with a bang ? and a couple of dazzling chase sequences, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is about as unfocused and meandering as the title itself. Instead of the breathless action of previous films, this one gets draggy and repetitive in the middle, with Indy and Company traipsing through various tombs, searching by torch light for clues to the origin of the mysterious and powerful Crystal Skull of Akator. The fear that fans have long held is justified: that technology unavailable during the first three Indy movies would make this one look slick and fake. That's especially true during the protracted, messy climax. Shia LaBeouf holds his own as Indy's young sidekick and Karen Allen returns from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" as Indy's long-lost love. Cate Blanchett, John Hurt and Ray Winstone, meanwhile, go to waste in one-note roles. PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images. 126 min. Two stars out of four.

"War, Inc." ? Last year, John Cusack starred in the small, moving drama "Grace Is Gone," about a father struggling to explain to his daughters that their mother has been killed while serving in Iraq. Cusack's anger over the war inspired his involvement, but the film itself was by far the loveliest and subtlest of the many Iraq war movies that have come out. Still, few people saw it ? a problem that has plagued every movie made on the subject. This time, he's taking a different approach: "War, Inc." is a satirical comedy in which he stars and that he co-wrote and co-produced. But it's unlikely that anyone will go see this one, either. "War, Inc." certainly has some funny lines and ideas, but as a whole it's too broad, too obvious and there's very little that's lovely or subtle about it. As he did in "Grosse Point Blank," Cusack plays a world-weary hit man named Hauser; his latest assignment takes him to Turaqistan, which the United States is occupying in a war run entirely by a private corporation. (Wouldn't you know it, the head of the company is the former U.S. vice president.) Hauser must take out the Middle Eastern oil minister, Omar Sharif (yes that's really his name, it's supposed to be funny), who's building an oil pipeline that would compete with the corporation's interests. While working undercover at a garish pro-American trade show, Hauser becomes entangled with a left-wing journalist (Marisa Tomei) and a Central Asian pop star (Hilary Duff). R for violence, language and brief sexual material. 107 min. Two stars out of four.