Combustible Celluloid
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With: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Barrie, Noah Taylor, Djimon Hounsou, Til Schweiger, Simon Yam
Written by: Dean Georgaris, based on a story by Steven E. de Souza, James V. Hart
Directed by: Jan de Bont
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 117
Date: 07/21/2003

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

This 'Cradle' Will Fall

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's a little better, but the new sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life -- what kind of a stupid title is that? -- still doesn't get the golden cigar.

Fourteen summers have passed since the last Indy movie and I've been Jonesing for a fix. I worked like a bullwhip to meet the similar The Cradle of Life halfway, to read some kind of thrills or suspense or adventure into it. But all to no avail.

The movie starts well, this time with direction by Jan de Bont (Speed) instead of the talentless Simon West (Con Air). An earthquake off the coast of Greece disrupts ocean currents and frees an ancient underwater treasure chamber. Inside the chamber is a glowing orb that tells the location of the real-life Pandora's Box.

Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) dives into the chamber, a dazzling, slightly tilted set with water spraying in through various cracks. For a few moments, we experience an Indy-like thrill, but enemy forces arrive (led by Hong Kong actor Simon Yam from John Woo's Bullet in the Head), get the drop on Lara and her team and make off with the orb.

The sequel then makes the same stupid mistake as the original movie. To get to Pandora's Box, you need not only the orb -- which is really a kind of map -- but also a pendant that serves as the map's legend. One is useless without the other. Lara snatches the pendant early on in the film, which should put an end to the whole thing. But for some reason, it goes on.

As in the original film, de Bont surrounds Lara with half-wits totally lacking in personality. She enlists former turncoat Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) as her guide, and Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds) is the bad guy, who specializes in biological terrorism and can't wait to get his hands on the evil inside Pandora's Box. Til Schweiger plays a Nazi henchman who gloats a lot. All three of these guys are so boring that I couldn't pick them out of a lineup.

Fortunately, Noah Taylor is on board once again as Bryce, Lara's resident nerd and computer expert. And Djimon Hounsou plays a noble African who helps guard the box.

Jolie is perhaps the most interesting actress with the least interesting resume working today; she has yet to make a really good movie. But she exhibits a huge screen presence, and she puts everything into Lara Croft, from her delicate English accent to her cunning eyes.

But no one else, from the scriptwriters (whose combined work includes Hook, The Flintstones and Judge Dredd) on down, gives her a hand.

Indeed, the storytellers behind The Cradle of Life concentrate mostly on transportation: the best parts of the movie depict our heroes getting from place to place, whether on motorcycles or a speedy aircraft or a parachute-suit. (In the Indiana Jones films, the characters merely travel by dotted lines on maps.)

The quiet scenes fall with a thud and the action scenes grow sillier and sillier as the film goes on. A climactic battle with CGI monsters is one of the worst, most incomprehensible fights of the year.

By the last 15 minutes, the movie has plunged off a cliff -- where it could have left us hanging -- especially with the filmmakers trying to make something out of the leaden "romance" between Jolie and Butler.

I wanted to like it. I worked hard to lose myself in this movie, but the movie did not respond. I tried hard. I really did. It's just that the filmmakers did not try at all.

(See also the original Tomb Raider.)

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