I had never bothered watching this film before because it has a reputation as being not particularly good compared to the other Indiana Jones films from the ’80s. That just made it a candidate for my list of films I own but hadn’t seen; but having watched it now, I’d have to agree with the consensus.
In one sense this is a little surprising: individual scenes are well done, Harrison Ford is plenty charismatic, and the kid sidekick thing works quite well. So this review is more a list of reasons it doesn’t quite hold up.
First, the first act busted-deal-into-chase-scene has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It sort of explains how Indy, “Shorty”, and girl-of-the-film Willy get dumped into the actual crisis, and I suppose the idea of diamonds – lost in the deal at the beginning, given up on with maybe-noble motives at the end – gets introduced.
Second, there’s a little too much indulgence in the gross-out factor. From disgusting food to bugs everywhere to the details shown of the cultists’ ceremonies, there’s a lot in here that seems calculated to scare the audience, more than actually do anything for the plot. Although it’s not just the audience, which brings up the biggest problem.
Willy’s character doesn’t have a very clear role in the film. All the nonsense she goes through ought to get her some recognition or credibility. But actually her reactions throughout are played for comic relief: she’s not part of the group really or clearly outside it. Similarly, despite one scene which evidently used up the film’s entire allowed stock of sexual invitation and innuendo, she’s not a convincing love interest – or even a lust object. The way she’s mostly ignored makes her detestation moments more convincing than her flirtations; on the flip side Indy does mostly ignore her, seems interested only to the extent she is, if that, but also can’t seem to let her go. It’s unsatisfactory story-telling all around. The “fortune and glory” bit might have been used to develop that somewhere, but it really shows up a bit late in the film to build around. It also doesn’t help that Willy and “Shorty” mostly ignore each other completely.
In sum: the introductory act is very good; the fight/chase act starting with Indy’s rescue is quite good; it’s all the middle dramatic bit that really just falls flat. Probably was worth watching once.