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Lara Croft Tomb Raider:
The Cradle of Life

Every time the camera focuses on Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) staring intently through her trademark long lock of hair, it reminds us that the creators of this film have labored hard to make her look just like her computer incarnation. Aside from the lock, Jolie also has the pencil-thin eyebrows, the pale complexion, and yes, in many shots, the breasts that defy reason.

But looking like the character isn't enough, just as looking like an action film doesn't guarantee it's going to be exciting. Or even interesting. Instead, the unwieldy titled Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life goes through all the motions, has all the right moments and that lock of hair, but somehow can't muster nearly as much excitement as a videogame.

You could say, however, that it's better than the first Tomb Raider, though that's not much of a stretch. At least the script, by Dean Georgaris from a story by Steven E. DeSouza and James V. Hart, tries to tell a story that mixes the fantastic with real world terrors. But though it's a clever enough idea (Pandora's Box as the source of the ultimate biological weapon), the screenplay lacks any real wit. It strings together scenes with a plodding competence, oozing with simply boring dialogue.

To serve its purpose, the script also tells us that what we think we know about Pandora's Box is all wrong. Probably not bad in itself; many of the target clientele may not really know what the myth is. Or at least, as Lara puts it, the "Sunday School version," because so many kids learn about Greek mythology from Sunday School. But the "real" details only pop up to telegraph the next scene. When someone points out that Pandora cried black acid, it only means that somebody's about to step in some.

Perhaps that's just so the slower viewers can keep up. Whenever one scene ends with a line like, "we'll find them in Hong Kong," the next scene begins with a title card: Hong Kong. Please try to keep up. It gets so bad that I expected somebody to say "only a complete idiot would try that" just before Lenny and Squiggy (or perhaps Lara's butler and computer geek) burst through the door.

Worse, though, the script struggles against direction that saps what little life it might have had. There's simply no joy in it.

Director Jan DeBont made his initial reputation on films that were fast and loud, high concepts that were more about what special effect we might see than anything of real resonance. (Anyone care to argue about Twister?) But he has since proven that he has no feel for pacing, and this movie should put the final nail in the coffin.

Scenes that should have crackled are clumsily shot with little regard for how they might build our interest. While Lara is meant to be an incredibly clever and resourceful woman, DeBont distracts us from whatever plan she's concocting. By the time we see her work put into action, it's as an afterthought.

In theory, riding a neon dragon sign while attacking a helicopter in Hong Kong should be stirring to say the least. In action, it's cramped, jumpy, and really comes as no surprise to either the audience or, strangely enough, the bad guys.

Actually, nothing seems to ever come as a surprise to the bad guys. Masterminding the whole plot, Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds) maintains a cool, slightly disinterested veneer. Like many a stock British foe, he arches an eyebrow or two, but never generates the sensation that this guy could wipe out the world. True, real evil would be that mundane, but in a movie based on a videogame, we need things a little bigger than life.

Jolie tries to break from the tight reserve she showed in the first film. In a few places, she smiles knowingly, and lets slip a laugh or two. But such moments never fully realize. It's not just that the story bookends with personal tragedies for Lara; the friends she loses never really register as characters, just stereotypes. Then again, Lara herself never gets depth beyond a description. Being a Tomb Raider is something Lara does; the script confuses that with being who Lara is. Rather than give Lara competition, the movie co-opts it. In order to defeat Reiss, whose strategy consists of letting Lara do all the work then strongarming her, Lara demands that MI-6 bring in Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler). Years before Sheridan had betrayed his military command, in a vague, you know, it must have been bad, sort of way. His worst crime, though, was betraying Lara's heart. Not that you'd know it from Jolie's icy performance. If working with Terry causes her any conflict within, we never see it, though occasionally the two talk about it.

The real men in Lara's life remain Hillary (Christopher Barrie) and Bryce (Noah Taylor). They appear as afterthoughts, providing either awkward comic relief, exposition, or most conveniently, a weak spot for Lara. Both actors are gifted and have shined elsewhere. Here, however, there's only so much they can do with the thin situations they've been given.

Such is the case with Butler as well. Looking tough with closely shorn hair and an impenetrable Scottish accent, he really seems to exist just so that we can have a love interest that can be thoroughly beaten. You can't get that when men are the heroes of the film. Oh, Sheridan is shifty enough, whenever the script remembers that it said so. But there's no chemistry, no sense of a real past between him and Lara, so his weasel-like tendencies make no impact on us.

How about monsters? Some do exist, and they might be pretty nifty. They're also hard to see, their third act killing spree serves only to thin out a cast of extras, and no explanation is given for them. Though their appearance does offer hope that at least we'll get a brief riff on the survival horror genre, it's not to be.

Years from now, perhaps a future tomb raider will sift through the ruins of the Paramount offices, and uncover documents that discuss why this movie was made. But for now, it's a truth, like Pandora's Box, that we are not meant to discover.

If you're smart, you won't discover this movie, either.


Derek McCaw

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