The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers a string of hilarious shocks as it leaps from the Nazi-dominated 1938 of the previous Indiana Jones movie to the Cold War of 1957. Set in Nevada, the opening sequence -- an instant classic -- carries American Graffiti teen culture into a new Indy universe as rock 'n' roll and hot rods crash into atomic fear and space-age paranoia. Since producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp organize sequences like interlocking toys, it would be cruel to give any tinker's trick away. At the center lies the mystery of the Crystal Skull of Akator, based on a real-life relic of disrepute found in the ruins of a Mayan temple. True believers ascribe mystic powers to this Crystal Skull, a dream object for Soviet superagent Irina Splanko (the mesmerizing Cate Blanchett), an expert in occult and paranormal powers.
Luckily, she and it face their match in Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones. Now more than ever, he's engaging, gnarly and opaque -- the most stubborn, least sentimental of escapist action heroes. For the price of admission, you also get Karen Allen's radiant return as Indy's game, resilient true love, Marion Ravenwood, and Shia LaBeouf doing a spirited 1950s bad boy with a pocket knife and a pocket comb. An overall air of jollity catapults you past the picture's gaudy excesses. (M.S.) 122 minutes B+