Lara Croft — Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

(2003) ** Pg-13
117 min. distributer. Director: Jan De Bont. Cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Chris Barrie (II), Djimon Hounsou, Ciaran Hinds.

Simon West's dispiriting Lara Croft: Tomb Raider squandered the opportunity to create a classy, new, female-headlined action franchise. Instead, it merely created a new, female-headlined action franchise, starring videogame vixen Lara Croft as a female Indiana Jones with Angelina Jolie's preposterously pouty lips. Now, action vet Jan de Bont has taken up the mantle, using a story concocted by Steven E. de Souza and James V. Hart and scripted by Dean Georgaris, to cross Indiana Jones with James Bond, Jolie-style.

The results are, sadly, pretty boring. A high silliness factor helps, with corny villains and a sexy partnership between Croft and an eye-candy "Croft boy." De Bont also channels the splashy, name-brand-riddled style of modern Bond flicks, with gravity-defying stunts and fight choreography. But Lara Croft — Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life lacks the well-worn craft of Bond and never shakes off the impression that it takes itself a little too seriously.

This time, globe-trotting archeologist/spy-for-hire Croft races bad-guy Jonathan Reiss (Ciarán Hinds) to the legendary Pandora's Box. Reiss ("a modern-day Dr. Mengele") has big plans to secure himself ill-gotten gains by unleashing the box's evil power, so Jolie enlists ex-boyfriend Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler)—who's serving time on treason charges—to help her nab the box.

Like the first movie, Lara Croft — Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life focuses on opportunities to get Jolie and her ample assets wet and wild. With fetishistic slo-mo detail, de Bont gives Jolie close-ups Katherine Hepburn would never have imagined; the director frequently frames Jolie between two handguns at least as tall as her face. De Bont orchestrates an eye-popping freefall stunt, but loses his way in derivative, stagy gunfights and, in succession, a poorly staged climax and a predictable resolution, both predicated on fantastical CGI creature effects and irrational human greed.

The humor—when it comes--tends to be more laughable than funny, like Sheridan's straight-faced assertion that he and Croft and "opposite sides of the same coin," followed instantly by their synchronized routine of ducking and gun-brandishing. For a left-field punchline, De Bont indulges the Tweedlee-Tweedledum antics of Croft's Moneypenny and Q, her butler Hillary (Christopher Barrie) and tech-whiz Bryce (Noah Taylor).

Jolie's unearthly charisma is almost enough to carry these pictures above the average, but her big speech this time out—about the balance of the earth, yin and yang, and all that—rings too true. In the circle—or is it cradle—of life, this movie is neither here nor there, perfectly stabilized in the great, wide mediocre.

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