FILMS

Clash of titans

Two new action movies thrive on formula

Brian D. Johnson June 5 1989
FILMS

Clash of titans

Two new action movies thrive on formula

Brian D. Johnson June 5 1989

Clash of titans

FILMS

Two new action movies thrive on formula

Hollywood’s battle for the summer box office is on. And it is shaping up to be an unprecedented clash of titans, with three superhero spectacles opening this month—Star Trek V(June 9), Ghostbusters II (June 16) and Batman (June 23). Getting a head start on the competition, two gladiators have already stepped into the arena: Harrison Ford dusts off his bullwhip in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, while Clint Eastwood adds some more notches to his gun in Pink Cadillac. For sheer thrills, there is little contest between the two pictures, which both opened last week. The Last Crusade is an extravagant midway of stunts and special effects, a movie that aspires to be a Hollywood theme park. Pink Cadillac is like a slow, rickety roller coaster at a county fair: once the charm wears off, it is a boring ride.

The Last Crusade completes the trilogy that director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas began in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark and continued in 1984 with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Together and separately, the two film-makers have created seven of the 10 top-grossing movies of all

time, including E. T. and the Star Wars trilogy. With The Last Crusade, Spielberg and Lucas, undisputed masters of the Hollywood arms race, retire the Jones legend with appropriate overkill. All the familiar elements are back. As Jones, the daredevil archeologist of the 1930s, Ford ventures into caves, castles and crypts. He wades through a sea of rats. And he flees Nazi hordes by boat, horse and zeppelin.

But The Last Crusade brings a shrewd twist to the legend, casting Sean Connery as Indy’s father. Like James Bond, the character that made Connery famous, Indy is a civilized cowboy with a sense of humor who unearths evil conspiracies in exotic lands. But the connection is more than fortuitous. James Bond served as the model for Indiana Jones. In 1977, Spielberg told Lucas that he wanted to make a Bond movie with Connery. Lucas suggested a new type of Bond movie instead, one about archeology rather than espionage.

As Indy’s father, Henry, Connery plays a cantankerous and bumbling scholar on an obsessive search for the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. Henry falls into the hands of Nazis, dark knights who hope to

exploit the grail’s magic powers of eternal youth. And Indy, who has settled down to a quiet teaching career, rides to the rescue. Trying to make sense of his father’s cryptic maps, he is soon crawling through Venetian catacombs and galloping across Middle Eastern deserts.

More campy than Raiders but less cynical than its sequel, The Last Crusade is like an archeological dig through Hollywood clichés, ending with a classic ride into the sunset. Along the way, there are scenes of vintage slapstick, including a revolving-wall gag straight out of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. At an elaborately staged Nazi rally, a ridiculous Adolf Hitler is shown signing autographs like a matinée idol. And Connery and Ford generate some laughs with their broad banter.

But Spielberg, the consummate show-off, keeps upstaging his stars _ with the relentless firepower of his

0 action sequences. A brutal 10-minute ^ scene in which a tank chases Jones

1 around the desert seems intermina-

2 ble. And by the time the characters find the grail, the movie is collapsing under the weight of its own special effects. Meanwhile, the comedy between Ford and Connery caves in to lugubrious sentiment. An icy blonde named Elsa (Alison Doody) comes between them, but she is a disposable bimbo in the Bond tradition. And the grail is a crucible for male bonding, bridging the father-son abyss.

Pink Cadillac, on the other hand, is about bail bonding. Eastwood stars as Tommy, a socalled skip tracer—he tracks down fugitives who have skipped bail set by a bonding company. He, too, ends up in a private war with fascists. His troubles begin when he sets out to retrieve Lou Ann (Bernadette Peters), who has taken the rap for her husband’s criminal dealings. She and her eight-month-old baby were last seen racing off in his 1959 flamingo-pink Cadillac convertible. Tommy tracks her down, but on the way home, they become the target of amphetamine-snorting white supremacists.

Fresh from directing Bird, his acclaimed drama about saxophonist Charlie Parker, Eastwood is so laid back in Cadillac that he might as well be mulling over his next jazz film. With Buddy Van Horn directing, Eastwood lets his tough-guy persona slide into fey self-parody and seems content to have Peters carry the movie. With Kewpie-doll charm and clever timing, she finds some pleasant nooks of romantic comedy in the script. But the film's depiction of the white supremacists—Hollywood’s flavor-of-the-week villains—is heavyhanded and humorless. And Van Horn directs the car-chase formula with all the imagination of a traffic cop. Compared with The Last Crusade’s high-octane adventure, Cadillac is running on empty. Both bring back likable road warriors, but they are fighting the same old battles in vehicles locked on cruise control.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON