“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” comes from Hollywood’s current cradle of life — the bubbling, brothy pit of sequels and remakes and updated comics, that combustive fondue where amazingly juvenile ideas fertilize “state of the art” effects.
Angelina Jolie recycles as Lara Croft, tracking down a golden ball that leads to a magical chest that is Pandora’s mythic box, though it looks like a booby prize at a Las Vegas raffle. Lara scubas into the lost treasure temple of Alexander the Great, a priceless marvel that, once discovered, is soon destroyed — but don’t forget that her business card says tomb raider, not preserver.
Chief villain Ciaran Hinds is a bulging suit who wants to release hellish plagues on the world (imagine Saddam as an Elks Club pharmacist).
Male bodies line up for disposal, and the hunkiest is Terry (Gerard Butler), renegade MI5 agent turned greedy pig. His facial stubble is his performance, and he’s such a virile specimen that he avows his love for Lara immediately after socking her.
She’s woman enough to take it. Those lips, those eyes, that smile — the full Jolie package. But so cold (apart from the smile) that she seems not so much the ultimate Bond babe as a refrigerated android, speaking Chinese with phonetic fluency, unleashing incredible firepower, landing in a very remote interior, but finding a motorcycle worthy of Malibu and a fabulous dragon-themed jacket.
Female action star
Girls now have a female action star to, well, not quite ape, and surely not to emulate (who could ever match the lips?). Here is an actress who won an Oscar, and survived marriage with Billy Bob Thornton, but she comes off in her big film franchise as a chilled cookie served on granite.
The high point goes nowhere but down, a long, gliding jump off a Hong Kong skyscraper. Many exotic places are visited, each one posing like a theme park. The cradle of life naturally means Africa, which alas means stock shots of animals and tribal people who must be chagrined that Lara is not Stewart Granger.
Yes, there are some of those old “King Solomon’s Mines” vibes, and a small performance by charismatic Djimon Hounsou (Cinque in “Amistad”). But then the wowzer payoff: a hokey cave with acid pools, and ugly tree monsters fiercely auditioning for “Lord of the Rings: The Final Nonsense.”
The director, Jan de Bont, did much better with “Speed” and somewhat better with “Twister.” The Dutchman was born into a family of 14 kids, which may explain his need to smash things.
The movie is an embarrassment of asinine riches. “Give me your best,” a villain snarls at Lara, and so she does — she distracts him by breaking some glass, then bonks him on the head with her pistol. Go, girl.
David Elliott is the movie critic of The San Diego Union-Tribune. © 2003 by the Copley News Service.