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IRRESISTIBLE `CRUSADE' FILLS IN INDY'S BACKGROUND - IN UTAH

As with the first two "Indiana Jones" films, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" begins with the blue mountain in the Paramount Pictures logo fading into a real mountain - but wait! Isn't that Arches National Park?

It is. And before long there is a time-and-place explanation that tells us the prologue is set in Utah!That's right. Steven Spielberg's latest - and, according to everyone involved, last - installment in the film series that began with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" starts out in Utah before taking us all over the world.

It's a 15-minute prologue that is funny, exciting and answers a lot of questions we've had about the intrepid adventurer - where he got his hat, his whip, that scar on his chin and his fear of snakes. (At the end of the film we also find out where he got the nickname "Indiana.")

The bulk of the film is an irresistible quest, of course - this time for the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper. Dr. Indiana Jones, played again by Harrison Ford, is at first reluctant - but then he learns that his father, Dr. Henry Jones (Sean Connery), may be in danger in his own search for the Grail. And, as they say, the race is on.

Along the way, they pick up Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), who both figured prominently in "Raiders," and meet up with Elsa (Alison Doody), a doctor who is more than she initially seems.

Elliott and particularly Rhys-Davies seem to get the short shrift this time around, but they each have a couple of good scenes to themselves besides just hanging around to watch Indy's exploits.

Unlike "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," which Spielberg seems to be apologizing for, "The Last Crusade" is lighter in tone, less horrific and more adventurous and humorous - in other words, more deliberately like "Raiders."

It's impossible to recapture the joy and wonder of seeing a superlative picture like "Raiders" for the first time, but to his credit Spielberg comes very close. It's not the stunts that are the most fun this time out, however - though they are many and harrowing. It's the chemistry between Ford and Connery.

Connery's Dr. Jones is a bookish fellow, a library-bound archaeologist obsessed with the Holy Grail. And when he finds himself in a tank in the desert, on a Zeppelin over Germany or surrounded by Nazis at a book-burning rally, he's not exactly prepared to deal with it all. At one point Indy's father turns to him and says, with disbelief, something to this effect: "They're trying to kill us. I'm not used to that." Indy replies, "Well, it happens to me all the time."

Connery is always fun to watch, but he's especially delightful here in an anti-macho role that is a hoot given his heroics in films past. And his natural screen charisma and wry sense of humor seem to be feeding Ford, who gives his best Indiana Jones performance yet.

It's pointless to lay out individual plot points in a picture like this, though you doubtless expect an encounter with something disgusting (it's rats here) and the usual cliffhanger aspects, such as Indy falling off a cliff, hanging from a tank's cannon, crash-landing a biplane, being chased in a speedboat, racing off in a motorcycle - not to mention an unexpected face-to-face encounter with Hitler himself.

As Indy's father says, "You call this archaeology?"

Well, of course not.

But it's hard to imagine any film this summer being more fun.

"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" is rated PG-13 for comic-book violence, a profanity or two and implied sex.