Jolie shines in otherwise dull Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider seemingly has it all — exotic locations, global adventure, seat-of-the-pants action sequences and a leading lady who has all the right stuff in all the right places (and can actually act, to boot.) Which makes it more the colossal shame that the script isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.Rash, hurried narrative and a baffling back story lead absolutely nowhere, leaving nary a clue as to Croft’s (Angelina Jolie) motivations. And a plot with such a huge hole in the middle of it, it’s gi-normous. Small moons could be pushed through it with ease.

Here’s the rundown: an ultra-secret organization named the ‘Illuminati’ desire to take over the world. To accomplish this, they’ve got to get their hands on two pieces of archaeological hardware that will activate some uber-device. If they miss just a single piece, it’s game over and everybody waits 5,000 years for another shot at greatness. Sounds simple enough.

Meanwhile, our heroine has stumbled her way onto their scheme, thanks to clues left by her dead father (Jon Voight) and is charged with but one purpose: destroy the two halves, thus saving the world from a suitably hideous fate. Still with me?

The race is on, and while each side of good and evil makes their own way to the first piece (shot in some truly lavish and beautiful scenery in Thailand), time marches inexorably on. The two sides meet, exchange witty banter, engage in an action-packed shoot-out/sword fight and otherwise bring the house down around them. And then in a surprising and completely contradictory plot twist, the forces of good (i.e. Croft) emerge the victor with the first piece in hand.

Which, if you haven’t guessed yet, is where the monumental story hole erupts. Evil needs both pieces to win. Good only needs to stop evil. Good has one piece. If Good destroys said piece, Evil loses and feels much shame. End of story.

But it’s not. Not only do the writers not allow her to destroy the piece, but they actually have her give it back to her aggressors. Perhaps there is great wisdom in the words once uttered by Rick Moranis, “ … Now you see that evil will always triumph — because good is dumb.”

Script-limitations aside, Jolie puts in a laudable performance as the jet set adventure-seeker. She’s almost a perfect physical match for her CGI counterpart and sports all the attitude and tough-girl sexuality that made her character the wet dreams of geeks everywhere. She’s pretty handy with the stunt work too. An action-sequence early in the film has her in an acrobatic harness attached to the ceiling, bouncing around like some gummi-bear on speed. A cool scene that would have been much cooler if not for the director’s prodigious use of quick cuts. The whole thing fits like a jigsaw puzzle mashed together with a hammer.

When she’s not bungee-jumping for justice or flashing dirty smirks at the camera, the movie becomes rather tedious as it relies on the other players in the story — all of whom are about as exciting as watching mould grow. There’s the nearly interesting anal-retentive butler, Hilary (Chris Barrie), the slightly less interesting cyber-geek companion who occupies a trailer on the front lawn, Bryce (Noah Taylor) and a plethora of bad, bad, men who come out of the woodwork like the cronies in an A-Team episode. It’s an amazing display of two-dimensional acting as each character struggles with the realization that he wasn’t given enough dialogue or depth to be interesting.

Hardly the worst action-movie out there, Tomb Raider is actually a fine adaptation, considering that the source material is a video game. The problem (apart from the horrible script) lies in the fact that it doesn’t go far enough. Monumental films like The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan have raised the bar on action FX and cinematography — and any film with a blockbuster budget like this one had had better measure up or fall by the wayside. The audience expects, requires and deserves it.

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