'Temple of Doom' sinks into sexism, racism.
THE idea behind ''Raiders of the Lost Ark'' was to revive the thrills and fun of the old Saturday-matinee serials. The same impulse runs through its boisterous sequel, ''Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.''
The new picture isn't just nostalgic, though. It's downright backward. Nobody expects deep philosophies from Steven Spielberg, who directed it, or George Lucas, who dreamed up the story. But moviegoers deserve more than the racism, sexism, and all-purpose mayhem on view here - failings that offset the razor-sharp action and technical brilliance also visible.
As before, the hero (Harrison Ford) is an archaeologist with a yen for adventure. His task is to restore a holy stone to an Indian village, and if he fails, a gang of brutal cultists will take over the world.
The religious twist recalls ''Raiders,'' of course, with its wacky mixture of Nazi conspiracy and Old Testament history. The similar hokum in ''Temple of Doom'' shows how drastically Hollywood has lost touch with reality. In the age of ''Star Wars,'' mere good guys vs. bad guys - or even struggles between nations - aren't enough anymore. The gimmick has to be apocalyptic, and sure enough, the ''Temple'' villains want nothing less than to overthrow ''the Hebrew God and the Christian God'' and set up their own deity instead.
There's no mention of other religions, by the way, and that's one measure of the movie's narrow attitude toward ''foreigners.'' Indiana Jones is shown as a great white hero, battling evil Chinese at first, then rescuing the hordes of India from a foe they're helpless to face by themselves. The message is plain: White people are good, yellow people are shifty, brown people are weak or sinister. Some lesson for the '80s!
Women don't fare any better. There's one in the story, played by Kate Capshaw , but when she isn't mooning over Indiana or fussing over a broken fingernail, she's whining and shrieking at hardships that real men - or even little boys, like Indiana's sidekick - take bravely in stride. Not since Fay Wray met King Kong has a heroine done so much screaming. Our hero actually complains about the noise, and pauses for a chuckle from the audience.
I don't impute bad motives to Spielberg or Lucas in these matters, or to Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who wrote the screenplay. I think they just got carried away by their enthusiasm for old Hollywood conventions.
Enthusiasm without perspective is childish, though, and ''Temple of Doom'' is a very childish movie. Just look at the yucky ''special effects'' - not only the gleeful violence, but the creepy insects and ridiculously repulsive foods, often rubbed in the heroine's face. Indeed, as if the filmmakers were pining for their own kiddie years, they give a surrogate family to Indiana - with that yelping woman as the mommy and a sidekick called Short Round as the child.
In all this, ''Temple'' recalls last year's ''Return of the Jedi,'' which also featured a few gross-outs before closing with a sweet family snapshot. So look out, folks, it's a trend. Our most popular moviemakers are shuffling back toward infancy - where's the fun in stuffy grown-up values like maturity, sensitivity, and plain common sense 'Finders Keepers'
This film is an unsuccessful attempt at epic farce. The action takes us through several states, by train, as bits of plot and dialogue fall into place like stones in a huge, complicated mosaic. But the ideas are so silly and the details so aggressively vulgar that the effect is small-time all the way.
The hero, played by Michael O'Keefe, is the sort of loser whose idea of a neat business opportunity is managing a failed roller-derby squad. You might call him the Broadway Danny Rose of the sporting scene. The loser becomes a winner while on the run (on the skate, actually) from his fed-up team: A few odd twists lead to a few odd coincidences, and suddenly he's hooked up with a coffin-full of money being purloined by an heiress from her rich dad.
A lot of time and jokes go by before he takes possession of the loot, helped by Louis Gossett Jr. as a shady friend and mentor. The filmmakers and performers hammer frenetically at their material, but the movie seems to go on forever, because there's no wit or substance beneath the obstreperous gags and raucous deliveries. It's remarkable that O'Keefe and Gossett retain most of their dignity in these tough surroundings, as do Ed Lauter and Beverly D'Angelo in other key roles.
The director was Richard Lester, whose work ranges from the heights of ''A Hard Day's Night'' to the depths of ''The Bed Sitting Room.'' His new picture ranks near the bottom of that scale, although his unpredictable talent always lends hope that his next project will soar.