Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life (2003)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life
Release Date: 7/23/03
Director: Jan De Bont
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Simon Yam, Terence Yin, cameo by Richard Ng (?)

Disappointing and dumb. An earthquake in Greece uncovers the ruins of the Luna Temple, which Alexander The Great used to hide his greatest treasures. The find attracts all sorts of grave robbers and tomb raiders, including the infamous Lara Croft (yummy Angelina Jolie). After procuring a mystical orb and having it stolen by the villainous Chen Lo (a poorly utilized Simon Yam), MI-6 pays Ms. Croft a visit and we learn that the orb is a map for finding Pandora's Box, which contains an unspeakable plague. A megalomaniac scientist named Jonathon Reiss wants Pandora's Box to wipe out Mankind, and only he will have the anti-virus to combat the plague. Anyway, Lara needs a guide to get close to Reiss and cuts a deal with MI-6 to release her crazy ex-lover Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) from prison to help her out. What a charming fellow. Their quest takes them to China, Hong Kong, and finally Africa, where Pandora's Box is hidden. Needless to say, Croft prevails and the world is saved once again from Man's selfishness and greed.

What a mess this film turned out to be! It's very sad and frustrating to watch a film self destruct before your eyes, and it makes you wonder how the script ever got approved in the first place. The film amounts to little more than a series of disjointed action set pieces that offer teasing glimpses of what the film could have been if it had been competently made. And while I'm all for action for action's sake, the action scenes are pointless and devoid of any energy or feeling. Instead of repeatedly insulting the audience by attempting to depict the impossible, why not throw in a little drama and try to do something realistic for a change? The film's one saving grace is, of course, the lovely Angelina Jolie, who easily and comfortably slips back into the persona of Lara Croft as if she were an old friend. Mercifully, the ridiculous fake boobs from the first film are nowhere to be seen, and the camera spends more time on Lara's overall physical presence rather than lingering on her laughably offensive chest.

Lara sees a lot of action in the film, but it's all rather gratuitous and silly. The action sequences make little sense and are simply not interesting, and when she does get into a scrap with someone, the tight shots and quick edits spoil any chance of figuring out and enjoying what's going on. I found this even more frustrating because of the Hong Kong talent and influence that was in the film. Ms. Croft also comes across as much more of an irresponsible hellraiser in this film, openly defying the law and disrespecting cultural treasures (and can anyone explain WHY she was riding her motorcycle on the Great Wall Of China?). And the fact that there's yet ANOTHER stupid love interest in this film makes Ms. Croft seem like a globe-trotting tramp who has ex-lovers stashed in every corner of the world, which left a bad taste. The visual effects are competent, but unnecessary. If the film had relied on a simple and straight forward approach to action and storytelling, it would have been much more interesting and satisfying than having the characters try and explain all of the silliness that ensues. In this regard, it's a lot like the last two James Bond films ("Die Another Day" (2002) and "The World Is Not Enough" (1999) ). Sadly, the most entertaining parts of the film are simply watching Angelina Jolie play with her butterfly knife and toss menacing glares at the camera. I very much doubt there will be a third "Tomb Raider" movie, and if there is, the budget will be much smaller and Ms. Jolie probably won't be in it.

As a final insult and one of the most juvenile cases of finger pointing I've ever seen, Paramount is blaming the movie's poor box office performance on the less than stellar reviews of the latest "Tomb Raider" video game ("Angel Of Darkness"), which has nothing to do with the movie. (these are undoubtedly the same idiots who thought that "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" (2001) was based on a video game) Of course they couldn't just accept the fact that it's a crappy movie, and one that reinforces the fact that Hollywood doesn't know how to craft action films and knows even less about how to present strong female leads. A minimally entertaining diversion for girls 'n' guns fans, but nothing worth seeing twice.