Losing Sight of the Reasons for Success Film makers sometimes have blind spots when they seek to capitalize on an earlier movie
Something seems to go a little haywire when film makers return to successes of the past, in proper sequels such as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” or decidedly improper affairs such as “Road House.” It has no relation whatever to “Dirty Dancing,” but the makers of “Road House” seem to hope that the presence of Patrick Swayze will deliver the “Dirty Dancing” audience--although they haven’t a clue as to where that movie’s charm lay.
Mainly, film makers seem to lose track of what made us love the original movie in the first place. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was a super piece of comedy-adventure for reasons of production, charisma, casting, audacity, timing, charm and that keystone of all solid projects, a marvelous script.
In his screenplay for “Raiders,” Lawrence Kasdan had the burden--and the freedom--of introducing fresh characters, of setting their personality quirks, their strengths, their weaknesses, their trademarks. He reached some kind of peak with both Indy himself and his full partner in adventure, Marion Ravenwood.
Indiana Jones was funny and, if he had to be, brave, but the emphasis was comfortably on the funny. Hard to forget that joke of the enormous villain in the streets of Cairo, elaborately tossing his scimitar from hand to hand; Indy quite suddenly dispatched him with a revolver, not some dumb, man-to-man, hurtful duel that was clearly in the making.
Indiana wasn’t so ironclad that he walked away from beatings unscathed, and although Ford was sexy enough to become a magnet for women of every age, Indiana wasn’t so aggressively so that he led the younger kids in the audience into the Valley of Grown-Up Stuff, where young boys in particular are sensitive to feeling overmatched, or, worse, unknowing.
Indy and Ford became a fusion of character and actor in the great Bond/Connery mold. Then Kasdan outdid himself as he sketched Marion Ravenwood and Steven Spielberg accentuated the wit of the writing with his use of Karen Allen in the role. Clearly, Marion was a match for Indy; she was a dame you could take anywhere and at the same time so intrinsically classy that she was never hampered with having to behave like a lady.
She could drink strong men under the table, run a machine gun or a thieves den of a bar in Nepal; she was someone you could leave in the dark with a carpet of snakes and know that, if she wasn’t exactly happy, she wouldn’t scream the place down. Karen Allen was all the reasons that Kate Capshaw in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” seemed even more of a shrilling ninny. In comparison with Capshaw, Olive Oyl was restful, low key, feminine. Also, Marion knew Indy inside and out and from way back; back, in fact, to the time 10 years ago when he broke her teen-age heart. It was a meticulously balanced pairing.
“Raiders” certainly had state-of-the-art chases; its stunt of passing Indy under a speeding truck and then dragging him behind it, clinging on by his trademark bullwhip, was the equal of every classic four- and eight-horse stagecoach stop that used to make kids’ jaws drop in Saturday matinee Westerns. But you’d be selling a deft, many-layered film short to think that “Raiders’ ” reputation came from its chases. It came from character, from throwaway humor and from our delight in Indiana’s inventiveness. There is some of that here in “The Last Crusade.” But not nearly enough.
Well, sequels must be allowed to grow, to breathe and to wander in slightly different directions. The notion of pairing Indy with his estranged father is a promising one, made rich by the choice of Sean Connery as Prof. Henry Jones, a medieval scholar. With Connery’s entrance, roughly 45 minutes into the action, the screen finally crackles to life. And he certainly puts Ford on his mettle, working to keep the picture from being pulled right out from under him.
But before we meet Jones Sr., the movie has been one chase, one gasp-maker after another. And ironically, it’s Spielberg himself who may have given us our fill of the hair’s-breath pursuit, with more than a little help from George Lucas, the series’ progenitor/co-producer. We do get a prologue with River Phoenix as the young Indy, letting us see for ourselves where he got his hat, his bullwhip, his scarred chin and his archeological leanings. But it’s a complete waste of Phoenix to careen him breathlessly from stunt to stunt. And the “payoff” that follows as we segue to the adult Indiana is no payoff at all, just a sort of veriform appendix to the plot.
As father and son effect a reconciliation and go together on a search for the elder Jones’ obsession, the resting place of the Holy Grail, screenwriter Jeffrey Boam has some moments of inventiveness, like Prof. Jones’ thoughtful use of his umbrella at one point, but the film needs a half-dozen more such character-inspired gags, minimum.
And might one ask what these film makers were doing with their choice of woman this time out? (All you who like your surprises pristine can just skip these two paragraphs.) Allison Doody is a perfectly good, James Bond-ish sort of decoration, but Indiana Jones with a Nazi sympathizer??? What is this nonsense? Nice that she’s a clever archeologist. Nice that she’s absolutely the first person down a cistern or into a rat-filled catacomb. Nice, too, that when faced with the Nazi book-burning, she says, that she believes in “the Grail, not the swastika.”
Yet she’s working for the Third Reich, and even though the series is set in 1938, one should hope that this father and son, suffused as they are with a sense of history, would have some clue about what that was coming to mean. For a film that is supposed to have grown from Lucas’ fascination with myth and legend as taught by Joseph Campbell, this embracing of one of the central myths on which Hitler built his theory of the Master Race, complete with a beautiful Rhine maiden to carry it out, is a little peculiar.
A day or so away from it and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” seems even more mechanical, a brakeless roller coaster ride with only a few of those lovely human moments that made everything work in “Raiders.” There is almost nothing to reminisce fondly about afterward; it remains to be seen whether watching Indy get almost dermabraised to death is what people line up to see . . . over and over again. Meanwhile, over at the low-rent side of the screen, it will be interesting to see how women, who were the making of “Dirty Dancing,” will take to the notions behind “Road House.”
Producer Joel Silver, director Rowdy Herrington and writers David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin have decided that if a little Patrick Swayze drove women wild, all of him, displayed almost all the time, would have them storming the box office the way the French took the Bastille.
What they seemed to misread entirely is the matter of romance. The made-up “dirty” dancing was bold and it was sensual, but it was still a metaphor for sexual contact, not the act itself. Almost all of the crucial love scene between Jennifer Grey and Swayze was played out on the most fervid screen of all, the audience’s imagination.
Well, over here at “Road House” the set designer has given Swayze a dream apartment in the Missouri country that has just the look of his digs in the Catskills, and the lighting people have backlit the love scene in just the same way, and the result is only hilarious.
They’ve undressed the handsome Swayze so often that when he stretches out on his rooftop in the buff, audiences laugh at the sheer incongruity of it. Alas, in its anxiousness, “Road House” leaves almost nothing unstated.