Archive for Friday, July 25, 2003

Sequel turns Lara Croft into James Bond

(PG-13) **

July 25, 2003

A sequel to "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" had nowhere to go but up.

The 2001 summer blockbuster that served as a launching pad for this
series was the cinematic equivalent of watching someone else play a
video game for two hours. The acrobatic Lara (Angelina Jolie) spent
her screen time trouncing legions of computer-generated nasties -
battles choreographed with as much soul as a Britney Spears soft
drink commercial.

The crew behind "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"
apparently learned a few lessons from that financially prosperous but
critically reviled flick.

For the most part they've removed the video game aspects from the
character - ironic but effective. This time the espionage-heavy
story is more grounded in reality. So instead of smirking through her
voluptuous lips during the most treacherous of contests, the formerly
invulnerable Lara often appears to be in actual danger.

Most importantly, the filmmakers pluck from elements that go into
crafting a successful James Bond epic.
Like the 007 franchise, "Cradle of Life" is as much about location as
it is momentum. Resembling a travelogue with gunfights, the
pony-tailed adventurer journeys from Santorini to Shanghai to Mount
Kilimanjaro. And like Bond she employs the same agreeably smug
attitude throughout her fish-out-of-water experiences.

In this installment, Lara comes across a relic from Alexander the
Great's reign that gives a cryptic clue to the location of Pandora's
Box.

"Everything lost is meant to be found," she says, despite the
potential global consequences of the find.

After this prize is stolen from her by the Chinese syndicate, Lara
recruits ex-secret agent Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), who also
happens to be her ex-lover, to help retrieve it. Meanwhile, a Nobel
Prize-winning scientist (Alan Rickman look-alike Ciarán Hinds) and
his deadly henchman (Michael Rooker look-alike Til Schweiger) hope to
use the fabled artifact as the ultimate weapon of bioterrorism.

In his fifth film as director, Jan de Bont ("Twister") keeps the pace
of this project at a brisk clip, giving the audience little time to
scrutinize the holes in the goofy plot.

Luckily, the rapport between Lara and Terry is strong enough to tie
these episodic moments together. Combative, sexy and ambiguous, the
pair's relationship adds an ingredient that was absent from the first
picture. And even though her counterpart isn't given much to work
with in terms of the script, Scottish actor Butler gets by most of
the time on sheer charisma.

If only the movie had kept with its Bond motif throughout the whole
endeavor, it could have remained a genial, summer no-brainer a la "2
Fast 2 Furious" or "The Italian Job." Instead, "Cradle of Life" turns
into the same Dungeons & Dragons-style crapola as the original when
the climax becomes a supernatural skirmish between Lara, the bad guys
and "shadow warriors" that inhabit an African forest.

The actual exotic backdrops favored throughout the film make the
phony sets in this finale all the more distracting. Worse, the shadow
warriors - ferocious CGI-spawned monsters - seem to be carried over
>from de Bont's abysmal remake of "The Haunting."

No explanation is given how or why these ogres were created to guard
this region or if they're even necessary, since whoever possesses the
relic can defeat them. But you can't find the box they are guarding
unless you have the relic to begin with. So does that mean they only
kill those who CAN'T find what they're protecting?

There will be little argument that "Cradle of Life" is a
much-improved sequel over its predecessor. Regrettably, it comes on
the heels of a movie that should have never been made in the first
place.

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