The 21-year-old star is a ‘dead ringer’ for Brando’s ‘The Wild One’ character.
LOS ANGELES — Whether critics walked out of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” loving or hating it, most had something to say about Shia LaBeouf’s dramatic entrance.
The 21-year-old actor plays Harrison Ford’s sidekick in this fourth installment in the Indy franchise, and when he first appears on screen, he’s a dead ringer for Marlon Brando’s young punk in 1953’s “The Wild One.”
We’re not talking a kinda-sorta resemblance. He’s got the same off-kilter cap, same black leather jacket and he rides up on a motorcycle, full of ’tude. Brando played the leader of a biker gang that terrorized a small town back then. But LaBeouf? As young Mutt Williams, he’s still a rebel in search of a cause in Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster, set in 1957. And to his credit, the actor knows it.
“Steven wrote a little note on my script that said, ‘OK, now it’s time to transform yourself into Mutt! Signed, Steven,’ and then he gave me three movies to watch,” LaBeouf says in the film’s production notes. They were: “Blackboard Jungle,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and — wouldn’t you know it? — “The Wild One.”
“As though I was supposed to go home and watch ‘The Wild One’ and go, ‘Oh yeah, I see how Marlon Brando did it!’” he adds.
But how convincing is LaBeouf? Most critics reviewing “Crystal Skull” mention the homage merely in passing, without passing judgment.
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said the young actor is “introduced as a total copy of Marlon Brando on a motorcycle in ‘The Wild One,’” and adds, “LaBeouf doesn’t seem completely comfortable in his disaffected teen role, a part that does not play to the innate likability that is one of his strengths.”
In a rare pan of the movie, Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips said disdainfully that LaBeouf’s entrance “rips off Brando.” And Robert Wilonsky of the Village Voice newspaper chain riffs that he’s “The Mild One.”
Fans of the former child star, who won a Daytime Emmy in 2003 for the Disney Channel series “Even Stevens,” may have a hard time accepting him as a tough guy. But as LaBeouf said last year in an interview with The Associated Press — when rumors of his casting in “Indiana Jones” were swirling but still unconfirmed — this is a transition he’s been planning for a long time.