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As far as I’m concerned, Harrison Ford, born in 1942, is our last great movie star. By movie star, I mean the marquee kind of name that can carry not just a film or a franchise, but an entire generation of moviegoers. Ford is in that rarified air of stars in which the line between the actor and the role is blurred; in which a persona emerges that embraces all the mythic ambiguities of the silver screen icon.


Reports are trickling in that Ford, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg have finally agreed on a script and a schedule, and may start shooting the next Indiana Jones film this year. This can’t be construed as anything but good news, but it does highlight a crisis I think we’ve been long neglecting to address: Who is going to step into old man Ford’s boots when he’s gone?


I mean really, who else do we have? Tom Hanks comes closest to Ford caliber in terms of pure pop-superconsciousness stature, but he’s never really attempted the action hero role, and in my book, the larger-than-life physical heroics are critical to the badass movie star thing. The other knucklehead pretenders have been knocking at the door for several years now, but I’m just not buying. Forthwith:


I hesitate to pile on with the other Tom Cruise haters out there, since it seems so trendy these days, but if ever there were a movie star that I’ve despised from day one, it’s Brad Pitt. I mean Tom Cruise. Whichever, I don’t care—I can barely tell them apart. Brad Pitt I hate because his hair always looks so good. It became impossible to ignore around the time of Legends of the Fall, a film in which Pitt played a rugged outdoorsy type with the immaculately styled hair of an elite West Hollywood gigolo. I tried watching that film for the storyline, but simply I could not take my eyes off that celestial mane! And don’t even get me started on Troy. Did you know that the end credits of that film, there’s a line that reads: “Starring Brad Pitt’s Hair as . . . Itself!”? True.


I’ve recently and reluctantly come to appreciate Brad Pitt’s acting—he’s at least as cool as his hair in Ocean’s Eleven, and his decision to have his character eating in every single scene is just the sort of Actor’s Choice he gets paid the big bucks for. But the man is impossible to like—the way he treated poor Jennifer Aniston is just despicable. One of these days he’s going to wake up to Angelina gnawing on his skull, and realize the terrible mistake he’s made.


And Cruise is such an extreme Hollywood construct, I have a hard time even wrapping my head around his existence. His contempt for us “little people” just pours off him in waves—if you look closely, you can actually see the air around him warp and waver from the incendiary derision he radiates to all non-Thetans. It’s easier to think of him as a kind of mass media celebrity android. That’s why I actually like his crazy-ass Scientology bullshit. When you get to that level of fame and fortune, the only real way to get your kicks is to aim for immortality and omniscience. Scientology sells this fever dream to our most earnestly self-deluded celebrities, and it’s a nicely efficient system, I think. They deserve one another.


Anyway, I don’t know how much more mileage we’re going to get out of Harrison Ford. Man, what happened to this guy the last 15 years? Han Solo! Indiana Jones! Deckard! But then he started getting bad haircuts and wearing an earring and leaving his wife, and next thing you know he’s flying rescue helicopters for a living and dating Calista Flockhart. And I’m not even going to make any skinny-chick jokes here. Nosiree, no cheap shots in this column. But did you know she went missing for several days last July when she turned sideways at a charity event?


Rumors persist that the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise will be titled Indiana Jones and the Colostomy Bag of —no, I can’t do it. I just can’t make fun of Indy. Harrison Ford is really all we have left of a movie hero, and we have to hold onto him like grim death. Who else is going to power a franchise like Indiana Jones? Brendan Fraser? Please—the guy’s a career understudy. The Mummy movies play like a bad Mad Magazine genre spoof. That leaves, who, The Rock? Ice Cube? Vin Diesel? All these guys can do is wear tight t-shirts and scowl, or raise an eyebrow, or whatever they do. Forget it. Christian Bale? Batman Begins was a nice movie, but he still looks like an underwear model.


And with Arnold playing governor in California, we’ve lost our other aging action movie king. People dis Arnold, but he actually has tremendous screen presence, until he has to say something. Same with Keanu Reeves, our last pretender to the throne—he’s lovely to look at, but the spell is instantly broken when he opens his mouth. Seriously, these two are a great argument for reviving the silent film.


You know who might carry the torch? Seriously—Matt Damon. Stay with me here. He’s got a legitimate shot, I think—he’s great in the Bourne movies. He projects an intelligence and wit that reminds me of Ford, and his pairing with Franka Potente in the first Bourne movie is the closest we’ve come to the chemistry of Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark.


Too bad Damon looks like the starting quarterback on the junior high football team. So we’ll have to wait and see. If there were only some way to age him prematurely, give him the gravity and authority of Ford at his peak . . . I read that Damon got engaged recently, and if I were a more cynical person, I might suggest that marriage could do the trick.


Meanwhile, we gotta get Ford back on track for the next Indiana Jones movie. This is no time to be without a hero. I’m even willing to consider some sort of cryogenic solution where we freeze Ford now, and thaw him out every few years to do some location shooting. Drastic times require drastic measures. Who’s with me?

Glenn McDonald writes about popular culture from his home in lovely Chapel Hill, NC. His humor essays have been described as "grammatically consistent" and "remarkably frequent". He is editor of the Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me daily news quiz at NPR.org, and a film critic at the Raleigh News & Observer. He lives virtually at www.glenn-mcdonald.com.


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