I was pleasantly surprised by this – not the hyper-masculine grimy 1970’s picture I’d imagined (since it gets lumped in with Deer Hunter and Godfather and Saturday Night Fever and Deliverance in the “New Hollywood” category), but the Dazed and Confused of its time, an early-1960’s-set ensemble drama following a group of boys (and grudgingly some girls, but they don’t get prominence in the storylines or credits) between high school and college.

Wikipedia says all the guys are based on Lucas, in personality fragments, so people who knew him well must’ve seen this as a sort of George Lucas Multiplicity. Cowriters Huyck and Katz made Messiah of Evil around the same time, later worked with Lucas on Temple of Doom and Radioland Murders. Lucas was a producer on the mid-60’s-set sequel with the same cast minus Dreyfuss.

Curt = Richard Dreyfuss just two years before Jaws but looking ten years younger (based on my admittedly fuzzy memory of Jaws and the admittedly fuzzy picture of this movie on the Railyard screen). He’s got a scholarship but is thinking he’ll skip college. After a wild night getting roped into a local gang and trying to track down his dream girl, he changes his mind and heads off to school.

John = tough-guy racer Paul Le Mat (Melvin and Howard, Handle With Care, Puppet Master), who gets stuck with a young girl (Carol: TV’s Mackenzie Phillips) in his car, and is being hunted by street-race enthusiast Harrison Ford.

Steve = college-bound Ron Howard, who spends all night breaking up with his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams of Laverne & Shirley), then reconsiders both college and the breakup.

Terry = nerdy Charles Smith (De Palma’s Untouchables, director of Air Bud), who somehow picks up an out-of-his-league blonde named Debbie (Candy Clark of Q: The Winged Serpent, The Blob) and keeps trying to impress her.

IMDB trivia: Harrison Ford is driving the Two-Lane Blacktop car!

There have been many films about aliens made by Steven Spielberg (E.T., Close Encounters, Men in Black, War of the Worlds) and George Lucas (Howard The Duck, Captain EO, The Ewok Adventure) but never have they made a film about aliens TOGETHER… until now. Of course the trailer misleadingly doesn’t tell us it’s about aliens, and it isn’t really, until it goes all M. Night on us towards the end, thanks to a story by Jeff Nathanson (Speed 2: Cruise Control) and screenplay by David Koepp (Death Becomes Her, Zathura).

Solid cinematography by Spielberg’s usual guy Janusz Kaminski (who also shot Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Cool As Ice). Editing by Michael Kahn, Spielberg’s main man for the last thirty years. These two along with S.S. give the movie its only interesting quality, the occasional feeling that this is good ol’ classic filmmaking, not a 2008 Hollywood blockbuster but something produced back when complicated shots couldn’t be corrected digitally in post, and when scenes were edited for clarity and not for “energy”. Of course, the scene of Shia The Beouf swinging on jungle vines with commie-hatin’ digital monkeys spoils that, but it’s a nice feeling while it lasts.

The story is a bunch of silliness… Indiana is kidnapped by commies and forced to lead ’em to the titular skull, which is an actual alien skull, one of thirteen from the peruvian lost city of gold. Skull is returned, lost city turns into a spaceship and flies off. Oh and Shia The Beouf is Indy’s son, which I saw coming as far back as the trailer.

Better than following the story is to follow the touchstones… the pointed references to history and past Indy movies. I haven’t seen a movie more desperate to establish its setting (1950’s America! 1950’s America!) since the Spielberg-produced Back to the Future. From little things like college-town diner gang rumbles between The Wild One-attired Beouf and some preppie kids, and comments on how large and thick refrigerators used to be (also done in BTTF 3) to big boys like nuclear bomb testing and anti-communist blacklists. Then we’ve got the presence (and child and climactic marriage) of Marion from Raiders and loving tributes to dead former collaborators Dr. Brody (Denholm Elliott, actually dead) and Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery, alive but retired), that theme music, Wilhelm screams, references to Indy hating snakes, nazi-like villains (hot chick-in-uniform Cate Blanchett) getting their faces melted Raiders-style by supernaturally powerful artifacts, the actual Ark of the Covenant in a comic cameo, and so much more. This, not the story, is the true reason the movie was made… to make us remember how much we loved Raiders in an attempt to make us love this one by association. Too much association!

H. Ford lacks some of his former charm and either his speech is slowing or he’s overplaying the old-man angle. The Beouf, a decent leading man, is really going places after this and Transformers. Nice to see Cate B., Ray Winstone from Sexy Beast, and Karen Allen who was apparently in In The Bedroom. Ringers Jim Broadbent and John Hurt (best of the bunch) round out a cast overqualified for an action flick, but not for a Spielberg action flick.