Directed by: Jan De Bont
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Noah Taylor, Ciaran Hinds, Chris Barrie
Saying that Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is better than the original Tomb Raider is about on par with saying that sudden painless death is preferable to expiring by a long and painful disease. In either case, the results are unfortunate.
At least with Cradle there's something more in the way of a story, and we're spared any painful father-daughter scenes involving Angelina Jolie and real-life dad Jon Voight. (Whether this is due to the character handing in his SAG card in the first film, or to Voight's very public remarks about his daughter's diminished mental state is open to debate.) I can't, however, say the plot makes a lot of sense on any level, though that's probably the last thing on the film's mind.
The story might have been called Raiders of the Lost Pandora's Box, though a more accurate title still would be Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Boobs. Cleavage, after all, is the movie's true raison d'etre -- something made very clear by the posters, festooned with the larger-than-life image of our pneumatic heroine in a skin-tight body suit complete with a peculiar utility belt that looks like something from a certain kind of novelty shop. And I guess there's nothing wrong with that, if Angelina Jolie is your particular cup of Darjeeling. What I simply don't get is why it's deemed necessary to make the Lara Croft character so ill-tempered and humorless.
Granted, about the most personality I've ever witnessed in a video game is after I waited too long to do something and Sonic the Hedgehog started tapping his foot impatiently, so there's perhaps no reason to expect anything too deep here. Still, I see little reason to make Lara all swagger and pose, and nothing else. (And it has to be pose, because no one with a degree of intelligence could make some of the blunders she does in Cradle. I'm betting that in one particular sequence, even 5-year-olds can figure out that her sidekick is being forced to feed her bad information and lead her into a trap.)
When Lara loses Alexander the Great's orb (which must be the height of personal embarrassment) to the bad guys, she spends the better part of the next reel pouting, beating the crap out of others and generally displaying no sense of fun -- much like the movie itself. That was my major complaint with the original, and it remains a problem with Cradle. Come on, guys, this is a silly popcorn-adventure flick; there's no justification for the film taking itself so seriously, and unbearably so. If Ingmar Bergman suddenly made an action picture, it would probably be lighter in tone than this.
I'll give the movie credit for boasting a certain degree of globetrotting scope: The plot is set in motion atop a mountaintop in Greece -- at a big, fat Greek wedding interrupted by an earthquake. Before long, we're back in England at Croft Manner (presumably Lara has to return there every few reels for collagen injections). Then we're off to Siberia (or some place like Siberia) and mountain wildernesses in China, and next to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and finally to snowy Kilimanjaro (though with no snow in sight). The girl does get around, but the movie doesn't really make much out of its exotica, apart from the image of Lara tooling along the Great Wall of China on her motorcycle. For the most part, a studio soundstage and a few potted palms would have served equally well, since all the scenery is just background for wire-work stunts and variable-quality special effects.
For anyone interested, the film centers around the search for Pandora's Box and a harebrained scheme to use it for world conquest (mindless of the fact that using it will leave very little to hold sway over). The "Cradle of Life," where the damned thing is stored, is admittedly a fairly impressive set, so the movie does manage a pretty decent climax -- which the filmmakers then take the fun out of with a pointlessly grim ending and a real cheat as concerns the box itself.
More perplexing than the film's absurd, self-centered seriousness is the critical bewilderment I've seen over how Jolie could ever be attracted to co-star Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000). I mean, really, we are talking about a woman who married Billy Bob Thornton here.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke