Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:05

No stars out of ****

June 22, 2001


Welcome to the dog days of summer. But wait, you say, it's only June. Granted, the temperature gauge might not show it, but if the sludge currently being served up at the multiplex is the best entertainment we can expect, then we're all in for one long, unpleasant season.

The latest, and easily the worst, entry in Hollywood's parade of summer blockbusters is the over-hyped Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie as the buxom, gun-toting title character.

Based on the enormously popular computer game, Tomb Raider wants to be a sleeker, modern version of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- the plots are almost identical -- but it fails to produce even one genuine moment of wonder or adventure.

How does Lara know exactly where to look in the tombs, or what intricate series of tasks to perform in order to find what she is searching for? Who cares? She just does.

The film was supposedly shot on-location in various spots throughout the world, but all of the ancient tombs are so obviously just fabricated sets that the locations themselves become moot. A sound stage in Cambodia is still just a sound stage.

Director Simon West (ConAir, The General's Daughter) has assembled the movie with all the passion and tenderness of a fast-food employee processing an order of Chicken McNuggets. Tomb Raider isn't art, but it's not really entertainment, either. It's a widget, languidly mass-produced to fill seats in a theater.

The problem isn't that West is lacking the technical ability or the resources to match a filmmaker such as Steven Spielberg, who directed the Indiana Jones trilogy. He's just lazy. Almost all of Tomb Raider's effects-laden action sequences are disorienting by design, composed with countless close-ups, then edited together so quickly that the audience never really gets a chance to see the whole battle. Imagine watching a football game on television with only one camera that is always focused on the ball or the quarterback; without a few wide shots of the field to contextualize the action, the game would be pointless.

Despite the efforts of a staggering number of screenwriters -- the recent issue of Premiere reports 11 different writers were brought in to try to salvage the script -- West's hyper-active visual style can't cover up Tomb Raider's laughable dialogue.

At one point early in the film, a pensive Lara asks her butler if he knows what day it is. When he replies that it is the 15th, Lara sadly says, "And you know that can never be a good day." The camera then pans over to a picture of Lara with her father, played by real-life father Jon Voight. You see, Lara's father is dead, and, uh, I guess he died on the 15th. This is one of just many embarrassing moments in the film that seem better suited for daytime TV than for a big-budget adventure flick.

Based solely on appearance, the freaky, feisty Jolie was the perfect choice to portray cyber-babe Lara Croft. Unfortunately, the recent Academy-Award winner's acting is as uninspired as West's direction. She uses the same facial expression to convey every emotion -- an odd mixture of surprise and sensuality -- like a confused deer caught in the headlights trying to decide whether to move out of the way or mate with the oncoming vehicle.

For all you guys out there planning to watch Tomb Raider just to see Jolie's voluptuous body -- and you know who you are -- don't waste your money. Remember, this is PG-13. Save for a brief, unrevealing profile of her breasts as she strolls out of the shower, you're likely to see more skin at a Miss Amish pageant.

Likewise, for all you women hoping to find a new role model in this smart, sexy, ass-kicking archaeologist, you'll probably be disappointed -- unless, perhaps, you're a card-carrying member of the NRA. Unlike Indiana Jones, who uses his intellect and his trusty whip to escape from sticky situations, Lady Lara Croft just shoots her way out. Talk about "girl power."

For those of you who just want some good summer fun, stick to the beach.


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