'Indiana Jones': No Fun On The Killing Ground

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 25, 1984

"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the blood-and-guts sequel to the light-hearted "Raiders of the Lost Ark," stars good old Harrison Ford. But they should have called Conan.

"Temple" is for barbarians, a brutal disappointment for easy Indy's fans. Collaborators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg missed the ark and the boat. They focus on a vicious cult of idolators -- very like those of Thulsa Doom's snake sect in "Conan the Barbarian." The cult chants and rocks to "Rahdateh, rahdateh, rahdateh," as its priest pulls out a victim's beating heart, holds it aloft, then lowers the still-living sacrifice into a lava pit. Just behind this primal crockpot lies the object of Indy's quest, the magical stone of Shankara.

Joining Jones on his harrowing mission are his kid sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) and his new girl Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw). The three companions outrun the Chinese mafia, survive a plane crash and run rugged mountain rapids. Now that's entertainment. But it's not to last.

An East Indian guru obliges the intrepid trio to seek Shankara and return it to his dying village. Baffled Indian extras wander around like refugees from "Gandhi," incongruously thin against a rosy pink, fairytale sky. Their bony children are cult slaves, who are chained in underground mines and whipped by galoots in leather thongs and things.

While the people starve, their mind- controlled maharajah feasts on fried beetles, eyeball soup and monkey brain Jell-0. (What, no greasy grimy gopher guts?) It's not a subtle menu, mostly kid's portions. But our heroine saves the scene as well as the day. His majesty passes the platter. "No thanks," she says, "I had bugs for lunch." And faints. Willie also wears high heels in the jungle, screams a lot and worries about her nails. She's got a funny scream and a lot of energy. And even though she's set heroines back 40 years, Capshaw makes sure Willie comes off a likable bimbo.

If it's an adventure, it must be romantic category: Not so fast. Willie and Indy make noises about meeting later in her bedroom over a bowl of fruit, but he gets caught up in a garrote and is unable to observe her "nocturnal habits." At last, Indy gives Willie a taste of his whip (lots of those around) and a taste of his lips. They try to steam up the screen, but they're as mismatched as Boy George and Queen Victoria.

Sure Ford is grizzled, attractive and, of course, professional. But the spark is dying, dying slowly. The reflexes seem a little slower. Like James Bond, Indy's getting a little old for cliffhanging. It's time for Nautilus; time to dare more difficult parts.

But it's all new for 12-year-old Ke, a confident young player and the movie's savior. Because he's a cute little kid with a karate kick. Because he has the best lines. And because he is a respite from the evil all around. Even Ford seems corroded by the dark mood.

It's hard to top a formula that works like "Raiders" did -- the perfect blend of comedy and action, good and evil, mysticism and true grit, a camp compilation of cliffhangers, an excuse for a script and a sure salute to the serials of the '40s. Spielberg and Lucas tried too hard in "Temple." It has more complex stunts, more technical perfection, and more than a touch of genius. It's fun at both ends. But it's also mean-spirited and corrupt at its core.


© 1984 The Washington Post Company