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Harrison Ford carries the day in 'Kingdom of the Skull'

After several false starts, a half-dozen aborted script ideas and nearly two decades of talking about it, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's fourth Indiana Jones adventure finally rolled into theaters late Wednesday -- and it's quite good.

After several false starts, a half-dozen aborted script ideas and nearly two decades of talking about it, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's fourth Indiana Jones adventure finally rolled into theaters late Wednesday -- and it's quite good.

The cumbersomely titled "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is aimed squarely at the baby-boomer audience that lined up to see the first three installments in the '80s to an extent that may well confound the "Harry Potter" generation of moviegoers.

But it's crammed full of the dash, filmmaking flair, swashbuckling magic, impossible stunts and tongue-in-cheek humor that made the series such a phenomenon of its time. Almost every frame is enjoyable on some level.

What seemed the project's greatest handicap -- its 65-year-old action star -- turns out to be its greatest asset. Harrison Ford may be long in the tooth, but he still can crack a bullwhip, he looks just fine in his fedora and he's totally winning in the role.

When it takes off

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Set in 1957 (19 years after Part 3), it opens with a bang as Indy, kidnapped by a team of KGB agents led by a butch Russian scientist (Cate Blanchett), is taken to the same vast Nevada government warehouse where Part 1, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," ended.

Only they're not looking for the mothballed lost Ark. They're after the crated remains of a flying-saucer crash that contains a clue to what the commies really want: a Mayan crystal skull with a supernatural power of mind control that will allow them to rule the world.

Indy escapes their clutches, but he's soon further shanghaied into the plot by a young tough (Shia LaBeouf) who acts like Fonzie, turns out to be the son of his old "Raiders" flame (Karen Allen), and has the next tantalizing clue to the skull.

After that, the pair are off to Peru and the lost city of El Dorado to encounter cliffhanging peril from Russians, Amazonian natives with poison darts, not to mention scorpions, army ants, aliens (right out of Spielberg's "Close Encounters"), quicksand and one very large snake.

In the film's biggest departure from its formula, much of its first half is played for '50s nostalgia, working in such boomer iconography as drag-racing, Howdy Doody, Elvis, McCarthyism, Marlon Brando in "The Wild One," atomic bomb tests and "I Like Ike."

The second half is the usual nonstop action, but the motivating quest is consistently intriguing, most of the sequences are ingeniously breathtaking and the script is laced with so many fun references to the Indy past that the movie comes off as a loving tribute to itself.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," rated PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images, opened Thursday in Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and nationwide.

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