Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Screenplay : Patrick Massett & John Zinman (adaptation by Simon West; story by Mike Werb & Michael Colleary)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft), Noah Taylor (Bryce), Iain Glen (Manfred Powell) Jon Voight (Lord Richard Croft), Daniel Craig (Alex Marrs), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Pimms), Leslie Phillips (Wilson), Mark Collie (Larson), Chris Barrie (Hilary the butler)
When are they going to figure it out? How many bad movies based on popular video games does Hollywood have to make before they finally figure out that animated computer games, especially ones that have no real point besides shooting things, don't translate well to big-screen feature films?
The latest example of this never-ending lesson is Tomb Raider, which, while not being nearly in the league of bad video-game-to-big-screen movies like Super Mario Bros. (1993), Street Fighter (1994), or Wing Commander (1999), is still pretty bad. Rumors have been rampant that the studio wrenched control of the movie away from director Simon West (Con Air, The General's Daughter) at the last minute, but it's hard to tell from the final product exactly who did the hacking.
The movie fits neatly into the Michael Bay school of "confusing is fun," in which action sequences are edited together in such a hectic and disjointed manner that you lose all sense of spatial relationships. Apparently such details didn't matter to the filmmakers as the only thing that seems to be of importance is that you can glean the notion that Lara Croft is blowing people away and she looks good while doing it.
Angelina Jolie takes the central role of Lara, the curvaceous female bad-ass who sports tight hot pants, packs a huge pistol in each hand, and blows away bad guys while raiding archeological sites, and runs with it. Despite the messiness of the movie as a whole, Jolie should be commended for stepping into a predominantly male-dominated arena and commanding the screen. Jolie's face is just exotic enough to defy any easy descriptions, and with her steely glances and constantly arched eyebrow, she gives Lara a palpable air of mystery. The camera absolutely loves her, and why not? Jolie moves effortlessly from a heavily physical action sequence in which she shoots up a giant, insect-like killing machine to a soft-core shower sequence complete with slow motion--either way, she holds the screen.
The rambling story concerns the search for two halves of a broken triangle that, when put together during an eclipse in which all the planets in the solar system are aligned (this only happened once every 5,000 years), has the power to control time. There is a backstory involving Lara's missing father, Lord Richard Croft (played by Jolie's real-life father, Jon Voight), who spent his life searching for this triangle so it could be destroyed. The mission then falls on Lara's shoulders, as she tries to beat a mysterious group of old men known as the Illuminati, who might use the triangle for less-than-noble purposes.
Motives and alliances shift quite often, many times without a great deal of expectation. Lara appears to have some kind of adversarial relationship with an archaeologist named Alex Marrs (Daniel Craig), and there's enough to suggest some previous sexual chemistry, but not enough to explain why the movie goes sappy at the end when Lara has to save his life. Ditto goes for Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), the chief bad guy who is both uninteresting and unthreatening (he glares at lot, but not much else). That doesn't stop Lara from teaming up with him in order to retrieve the second half of the triangle, though, rather than destroying the half she already has and accomplishing her mission. Why? Who knows.
The only thing more confusing than what the movie's title actually is (Is it LaraCroft: Tomb Raider, or just Tomb Raider?), is how so many people could work on the script and still come up with something so muddy. The writing credits go to Patrick Massett and John Zinman, although director Simon West gets an "adaptation credit" (whatever that is) and the story credit goes to Mike Werb and Michael Colleary. Too many cooks spoil the broth, as the saying goes, but I wouldn't even begin to venture a guess as to who had a hand in what part of this globe-trotting narrative, which moves from Lara's Bruce Wayne-like mansion, to Venice, to the jungles of Cambodia, to the frozen North Pole (I think). Credit should be given for trying to expand the plot and allow for background stories, but it's all cut so short and delivered in such a perfunctory manner than it feels like shorthand no one can quite comprehend.
Having never played, nor had the desire to play, the original video game or its many spin-offs, I am not in the position to judge the movie's connection to its origin. Perhaps the game is a lot of fun to play--I suppose it is, since Lara Croft has become something of a cultural and sexual icon since she was first introduced. Yet, no matter how interesting she is as a two-dimensional character you can control on your PC-screen, that doesn't mean she can redeem a disjointed adventure movie that has no place to go.
©2001 James Kendrick