Saturday, May 6, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: JACK HUNTER AND THE STAR OF HEAVEN (2009)

In the previous installment, Jack (Ivan Sergei) and Nadia's (Joanne Kelly) goofy driver Tariq (Mario Naim Bassil) has a moment of prophetic insight when he muses that THE GODFATHER (1972) was a great movie, but the third part, not so much. While I wouldn't call THE LOST TREASURE OF UGARIT a great movie, it and the sequel are entertaining enough, but part three seems to have lost the plot. Almost literally.

Opening in Bulgaria, Littmann (Thure Riefenstein) has snuck into a crowded marina under the cover of broad daylight. Yep, the notorious grave robber and mass murderer has decided to make a grand entrance in a speedboat with a posse, for no apparent reason. Not only has the NSA got the marina staked out, but apparently Littmann's movements are so obvious that even Jack is waiting incognito (ie: sans hat) on a bench. Of course the NSA make a complete hash of things by simply rushing out into the open and initiating a shoot-out in the middle of a civilian gathering with bodies dropping left and right. And why are American foreign ops so unpopular, I wonder? After Jack takes a bullet in the shoulder, which bothers him for at least minutes, in typical government agency fashion, the NSA lay the blame for the massive clusterfuck at Jack's front door. Liz figures since he was there, therefore, his fault! It seems that the NSA is run by my parents.

Littmann's rich, asshole client, Petrovski (Teoman Kumbaracibasi), is more than a little miffed that Littmann has interrupted his pool party to show up empty handed. Why Littmann went back to be humiliated after the shoot-out and didn't just find another way to get the Star is a unexplained. I mean, if your boss told you to bring back a cup of coffee, and your boss had a firearm, would you go back empty-handed? No, because that would be dumb.

Now Littmann is (*ahem*) under the gun to get the final piece of the Staff and bring it back to the unscrupulous Russian for... whatever reason. I mean, he's a Russian that lounges around a pool with hot chicks in bikinis everywhere, whatever it is, it can't be good. Unfortunately for all concerned, as we know from the end of part 2, nobody knows where the Star is.

The writers made the assumption that the Romans were responsible for the destruction of Ugarit and the theft of the Staff, and so now everyone has to figure out where the Romans may have taken it. Oddly, Hunter makes the assertion that Octavious (Emperor Augustus) must have stolen the Star when he conquered Egypt. Since Ugarit is only a minor detour to a Roman army, a day or two out of their way, this seems reasonably plausible. The only problem is the fact that The Battle of Alexandria, the final of Octavious' wars against Antony, took place in 30 BC, over 1100 years after Ugarit was destroyed! Jack's story may be good enough for the NSA, but I ain't buying it.

As it turns out, the NSA has computers that can do pretty much anything except the dishes. After scanning in a picture of the box that had been made to hold the Star, they come up with a newspaper clipping of Nadia and her ex-boyfriend Fuad (Mert Yavuzcan) at an auction in which the box is sold by Faud's father. This is going to get awkward. Liz manages to twist Jack's arm to go to Istanbul (not Constantinople) and work with Nadia to get that artifact before Littmann does, which presumably would mean the end of the world as we know it. Fortunately for Littmann, a girl that speaks German literally walks in front of him and is able to give him the information that he needs to start his chase. All of the good will that the writers earned by doing a bit of historical research is slowly being eaten away with these incredibly lazy bits of writing that proliferate this final entry.

Starting off with Faud's old man, Mr. Antaki (Michael Halphie), Jack, Nadia, Tariq and Faud follow a trail that leads up a variety of strange ends. Their second stop is a Christian church to talk to an extremely helpful priest who directs them to an elderly widow who is spending her last days in a convent. When they arrive they are told that she is very old, but find that she is in her early '70s, is sharp as a tack and wants to do nothing more than talk about Puccini's MADAM BUTTERFLY. Nadia gets all mushy as the discuss love lost and maybe something else as this is about where I start discussing interest lost.

These scenes give us two things: Yet another chance to appease the local tourism board and also to find some inexpensive locations that at least give the viewer something to look at while we have yet another scene of talking heads. Wasn't there supposed to be some adventuring going on here? Where's the adventuring? Oh and we get to touch on the subject of Christianity in Turkey. You see, Nadia broke off her engagement to Faud because she was Muslim and he was Christian and their families weren't happy about it.

Littmann, like a slow dog with a slippery bone, is following the their every step, shooting up every place Jack and company visit. This breaks up the rather dry proceedings, as does a car chase around the scenic coast of Istanbul. Unfortunately for everyone (including the audience), the car chase leads to the group being arrested and ending up in a really rather nice jail cell. C'mon now, we've all seen MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978), and I'm calling bullshit on that nice clean cell with wood-paneled walls and neatly arranged chairs. Aside from that, is there anything more exciting than our heroes sitting, despondent in a jail? Why yes there is! A second scene of jail sitting! That's right, after getting Liz to fly over and bail them out, they finally discover where the Star is located. The group then rush off to a monastery, but on the way decide to stop to help out at an accident between two cars in the middle of fucking nowhere! Literally (I seem to be using that word a lot), it is two cars who have collided head-on in an empty desert. This, of course, raises no red flags, and it is, of course, a trap. Proving that their entire budget was squandered on the first two films, the producers take this opportunity to have Littmann take our protagonists to a rather odd holding pen in the middle of an abandoned factory. An abandoned factory. In the desert. How's that for excitement?

All of this finally leads up to some action in which Littmann has arranged to meet Petrovski to hand over the completed staff. The NSA are down for this, but instead of using strategically placed snipers to take out Littmann before he can use the staff, simply stumble down a mountain allowing themselves to be gunned down by Littmann's men en masse. Yep, our tax dollars at work.

This final show-down takes place next to a volcano which allows for another cheap, scenic location and better still for more cheap CGI. When I say "more" what I mean is: "only". This final installment is so threadbare that until the end there aren't even any special effects, aside from bullet squibs that make actors look like they are part of the NRA's Bastille Day celebration. I guess they thought that no one would watch past the first two or if they did, the viewers would feel compelled to sit through the last one because they invested the time in the first two. These cheap bastards even have the audacity to pull the old helicopter-exploding-behind-the-hill gag which I had thought went out with the A-TEAM in the '80s. Where are the exploding flower pots, I ask you?

Additionally, this denouement gives us an opportunity to shed a tear when Tariq waxes poetic about love in an attempt to push Jack into making a move on Nadia. Complete with swelling strings and lingering gazes. That said, it's still better than KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008).

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