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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) Print E-mail
Friday, 25 July 2003
“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” -- sequel to the hit “Lara Croft Tomb Raider,” which is in turn based on a hit videogame -- is a better popcorn movie than its predecessor, albeit not this reviewer’s idea of a perfect example of its kind. Yes, “Tomb” has plenty of stunts, special effects, gorgeous and charismatic persons of both sexes and breathtaking locales to recommend it, and one can’t accuse Dean Georgaris’ script, from a story by Steven E. de Souza and James V. Hart, of getting bogged down in exposition. It even has some cool mythological resonances -- but this is also where it starts to unravel, because the same reference to primal horror undoes itself before it has a chance to go anywhere.

The central gizmo is a strange glowing orb that turns out to be a map to locating Pandora’s Box. For those who completely missed Greek mythology, legend has it that this container is responsible for releasing all human woe into the world. Our intrepid heroine, archaeologist Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), winds up on the trail of the object after she is attacked during a treasure hunting dive. Sore about losing both her quarry and having her two associates killed, Croft is primed for retrieval and revenge. The British Secret Service helps Croft in her quest, even grudgingly securing the release from prison of her old colleague (and lover) Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler). The trail takes them from mainland China to Africa as they play cat-and-mouse with evil scientist Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), who means to use the orb map himself to find Pandora’s Box and unleash plague upon humanity.

There’s more than a hint of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the don’t-open-the-box-or-the-Powers-That-Be-will-get-miffed plot, but for those who are paying attention, there’s a bit of a letdown here, as somebody managed to get the box shut once before without the world ending (a footnote that tends to deflate the danger of apocalypse). This might not be quite so noticeable if the movie didn’t keep insisting that the issue of whether or not Croft can trust Sheridan is of vital emotional importance. Jolie is smashing to look at and radiates confidence -- so much confidence, in fact, that we have a hard time believing any relationship good or bad could cause her to seriously break stride. Credit director Jan De Bont and casting directors John and Daniel Husband with at least employing a worthy contender for Croft’s attention in Butler, who is rugged, vital and personable -- when Sheridan asserts that he’s charming, we agree with him. However, even the considerable appeal of the two leads ultimately cannot prevail against the movie’s determination to try to have it all ways -- they want to have a heroine who’s emotionally invulnerable while attempting to create some sort of personal dramatic stakes. The intention seems to be to produce depth, but the results just gum up the works.

The special effects and stunts are considerably more successful, with Jolie making a smashing initial entrance on a jet ski, and thereafter punching, kicking, jumping and shooting in a manner that do Croft’s vigorous video origins proud. There’s even a foray into Ray Harryhausen horror in the third act that’s fairly cool. Sound is loud, handsomely directional and textured -- when helicopters approach, we can practically feel the air shift over our heads as the blades whup-whup-whup, and the frequent gunfire is voluminous with good impact. (A shark that roars underwater, however, is overdoing it.)

“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” is fun in much the same way that a videogame is fun. You look at the nifty moves and cool scenery and get a vicarious blast from all the activity. However, the movie is no more viscerally engaging than a video game, and on the occasions when it tries to be, it misses the mark enough to be mildly annoying.

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