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Six years ago a pair of computer programmers – British brothers Adrian and Jeremy Heath-Smith – created a videogame featuring a busty, tough English aristocrat/archeologist: Lady Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider.”
The five installments have reportedly sold more than 20 million copies, grossing an estimated half-billion dollars worldwide. Naturally enough, Hollywood figured it great material to work from. Director Simon West (past credits: “Con Air,” “The General’s Daughter”) reasoned there was an enormous built-in audience for such a movie, “But obviously we can’t just put the game up on the screen. We can’t just show the back of Lara’s head as she runs around shooting things. We needed to reinvent her, make her real.”
Well, yes, perfectly reasonable reasoning. And given the ways of Hollywood, after an original draft (credited to John Zinman and Patrick Massett) got sent back for three rewrites, director West figured he’d try his hand at it.
Of course, his previous writing experience was in the mid-1990s, doing Budweiser’s “dancing ants” commercials. No matter, he had his vision. “I wanted to take a step back and restart the genre in a more sophisticated way.” Yeah, right.
Eidos, the San Francisco software firm which held the rights to the game, insisted on three things before selling the rights to Paramount: No cussing, no nudity and right of refusal on script and star. All fair enough. So what have we got? Sadly, in a word, a bore.
Oh, there’re some scrumptious sets: Venice in all its splendor, Angkor Wat rising out of the jungles of Cambodia, frozen wastelands of Iceland standing in for the North Pole. But the story? Where’s that sophistication Mr. West so boldly promised us?
How about once every 5,000 years all the planets line up in perfect alignment, and whoever has a missing piece of an intricate triangle to fit together winds up with god-like powers to control the movement of time?
A group of men in sober dark suits seated about a huge room in a Venetian palazzo, calling themselves the Illuminati (there was such a secret order, but don’t expect it to have anything to do with the movie – it’s just a fancy mysterious-sounding name here) are bucking for the god job. The planets are lining up fast, and the head Illuminati announces they have only a week to locate the missing pieces.
About this time, our eponymous heroine played in full-pout-lipped presence by Angelina Jolie, who we first meet battling giant insect robots in her 82-room English country house (just an exercise to test her mettle), suddenly hears a ticking clock, smashes open a wall to a secret room, locates the ticking clock, bangs it apart, takes a plaque with an “all-seeing eye” at its center and barrels off to London on her motorcycle to get an old colleague of her late father to inspect it.
The old gentleman declares it’s a mystery to him but immediately rings up the Illuminati, and then a certain Manfred Powell calls. Croft suspects he is not up to any good, and refuses to turn over the all-seeing eye to him. That night, a squad of black-clad commandos break into her palace, and after knocking most of the invaders off with adroit, endless kick boxing and swinging across rooms on ropes, the remaining commando still gets away with the precious eye.
And on and on it lumbers, with people saying we’ve only got so many minutes before the planets align, and Lara being parachuted in an armored car from a military plane into the Cambodian jungle where she and Manfred and his gang both tackle Angkor Wat, combating giant ceremonial brass monkeys and a many-armed Hindu deity before they all whisk off to Northern climes and an underground ice palace.
Lara, thanks to the once-in-5,000-years shtick, meets up with her dead daddy, played conveniently by the actress’ real life daddy, Jon Voight. And she and Manfred have one of those fight-to-the-death struggles, in which a couple of stunt people earn their money making it look as desperate and bloody as all get-out. But there’s no suspense because, I mean, doesn’t every last person in the audience know who’s going win?
That’s a major problem with the whole movie – there’s no real suspense. There’s no humor either, although Angelina Jolie gets to smile a couple of times. And we have to put up with the sight of a woman kicking the living daylights out of every male in the movie.
Enough with this exaggerated bowing of the head to feminism in Hollywood. It’s one thing to see the Chinese actresses of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” who were all grace and cleverness in their ballet display of strength, but Ms. Jolie kicking men is nothing so much as reminiscent of Demi Moore and her performance in “GI Jane,” where her physical prowess vis-?-vis males seemed downright silly, and note that Ms. Moore has more or less vanished from the screen. No complaints, however, about Carrie Ann Moss, who in “The Matrix” managed to display strength without seeming a caricature of a male action figure.
Of course, maybe the bottom line should be the reaction of a video player, who on the way out of the theater, lamented, “The trouble with this movie is you have no control of the players. You just have to sit back and take what they give you.”
I believe he was going home to play “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” again on his computer.