Movie review: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life *

Ciaran Hinds and Angelina Jolie star in Tomb Raider.
Ciaran Hinds and Angelina Jolie star in Tomb Raider.

Despite what I thought was a reasonable assumption, I feel tricked: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is not a brightly lit televangelist hour on the Eternal Word TV Network, but a loud, busty, harpoon-to-the-leg sequel to one of the least-compelling badly punctuated blockbusters of 2001, Lara Croft Tomb Raider. (Would it kill notoriously cheap Paramount Pictures to spring for a comma and get the title right?)

If there was any suspense in that first Tomb Raider attempt, it came from the very real possibility the sweat on Angelina Jolie might, in the middle of a spin kick, rub off her strategically placed makeup and unveil a “Billy Bob” tattoo we didn't know about. Two years and one laser surgery later, not much has changed.

For an action movie, its characters couldn't look more bored. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, like the first film, claims to be the continuing story of a British heiress (or something) who trots the globe raiding tombs - hence a tomb raider, although clearly this is some entertainment lawyer's euphemism for “uncomfortably similar, intellectual property-challenged Indiana Jones clone.” I would like to add “generous” to that: Back home in England, hottie Lara employs two ugly men as her tech-savvy movie sidekicks; but since they're tied to her mansion, they resemble mankind's most important computer guys. When the fate of Earth hangs in the balance and Microsoft Office goes down, it's nice to imagine they approach Lara and suggest she simply turn her computer off and turn it back on again.

Cradle of Life opens with a big fat Greek wedding. It's interrupted when an earthquake direct from a 1970s disaster movie unleashes Styrofoam boulders and destroys Paramount's miniature replica of a Grecian seaport. Then director Jan De Bont plunges the camera into the Mediterranean in time to catch a computer-generated ancient-temple crack through the sea floor. Then Angelina arrives in a bikini doing spirals on a Jet Ski, dives, and finds an orb squirreled away by Alexander the Great. This is an amazing device: Created by a conqueror many centuries dead, it is a map that can only be deciphered with 21st-century laptops. Once the key is cracked, it projects a National Geographic special about Africa featuring many giraffes and lions. Lara quickly recognizes the generic African savanna in this projection as the place Alexander the Incredibly Foresighted hid a cute yellow box that, in fact, resembles one of those $10 bars of soap they sell in finer retail establishments.

Actually, this would be Pandora's Box itself, and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist turned mad man entrepreneur wants to find it and sell its unimaginably horrible (but never seen) contents to the highest bidder in the hopes of destroying the world, which if you think about it is weirdly self-defeating - but oh, never mind. As in the first movie, the logic of the plot and Lara's mission is explained in a rush of wonderful nonsense so impossible to explain, it is as if Lara is reading one of those dense, tiny-print addendums at the bottom of contest entries. I remember something about the Illuminati and a clock that's right only once every 5,000 years - no, maybe that's the first film again. The last thing I walk into a Tomb Raider movie expecting is a coherent storyline. I expect Angelina's pursed lips and amazing stunts.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life feels as if it's been translated from another language and the filmmakers will only oblige us with the occasional ridiculous gunfight in a lab processing the Ebola virus. Normally, their job is to build a dumb plot that's only strong enough to support a half-dozen special-effects sequences. Instead, they settle for endless close-ups on Angelina Jolie's smug feline features that reveal no peril, no emotion, and no personality. Her placidity grows numbing. And for those of you shaking your heads that I might describe Angelina Jolie in terms of her personality, consider this: Her bras, clearly the primary marketing point of Lara Croft Tomb Raider, are disturbingly less bullet-like this time.

As always, I should point out these films are based on the Tomb Raider video game series. The games are more fun than a film series that travels from Greece to England to Shanghai and still appear unwilling to do more than sample the continental breakfast at the local Hyatt.

I liked the first Lara Croft on a brain-dead summer movie level. This installment has fun exactly once: Lara is escaping Alexander's underwater tomb and her submersible is damaged. I love this: Rather than simply ride her enormous lips to the surface, she cuts her arm, attracts a great white CGI (I mean, shark), which approaches her and growls.

Lara punches the fish in the face and rides its fin to safety. It is truly the pinnacle of the summer movie season: A fish is bludgeoned by a woman in Vera Wang.

Somewhere, Billy Bob shudders.