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Grand Exit for Indiana Jones

Paying homage to '40s action movies, new saga breaks box office records. FILM REVIEW

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`INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE'' set a record as soon as it opened - becoming the all-time champion for box office earnings on a single day. True, the previous champ wasn't exactly distinguished: the impossibly crude ``Beverly Hills Cop II,'' starring Eddie Murphy as a wisecracking policeman. But a winner is a winner, and there's no disputing the built-in popularity of the ``Indiana Jones'' format that director Steven Spielberg and executive producer George Lucas have so cleverly cooked up. Indy's third offering pulled in more than $10.5 million May 27 and set house records at many theaters, according to Variety, the entertainment newspaper. Looking beyond opening day, its first 12 days reportedly pulled in $70 million - dwarfing even the mountainous earnings of Indy's last outing, ``Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,'' not to mention the adventure that started his career, ``Raiders of the Lost Ark.''

What's causing all the excitement? Nothing very new or different - that's for sure. ``The Last Crusade'' is just another yarn about Indy Jones, the handsome archaeologist with a taste for risky projects, colorful sidekicks, and exotic locations. This time his father, an archaeologist with a quieter and more scholarly style, has disappeared while researching the Holy Grail and tracking down its centuries-old hiding place. Adding spice to the story is a likable cast including not only the expected Harrison Ford and Denholm Elliott but also Sean Connery, an inspired choice as Indy's feisty pop. The settings of the story range from the Middle East to the heart of Germany in the Nazi years.

Since a zillion moviegoers will see any Indiana Jones film no matter what reviewers say, there's little point in reporting whether ``The Last Crusade'' thrilled or bored me more or less than its predecessors did. As it happens, Indy's new escapade seems reasonably fresh and energetic much of the way, although it bogs down in a silly chase (on a military tank) just when it needs a shot of real inventiveness, and the last third has more than its share of heavy-handed and even hackneyed moments. The film's style is a tad more muted than it might have been, as if Mr. Spielberg were tiring of his own visual pyrotechnics, but it maintains the formulas that have made the series so successful.

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