Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) / Action-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality                                                 
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor, Chris Barrie, Jon Voight   
Director: Simon West
Screenplay: Patrick Massett, John Zinman

Review published July 16, 2003

As a video game, "Tomb Raider" is a slick and fun diversion, mixing lots of action with some good old fashioned problem solving.  Plenty of eye candy is provided, but none more pleasant than that of Lara Croft herself, with the anatomically improbable body that has benefited Barbie, giving a heroine that would appeal to the mostly male computer gaming crowd.    The storyline was just a means to an end, usually setting up one exotic locale after another, primarily in places like temples or cliffs, where Lara can do her thing climbing and jumping in and out of treacherous peril.  It's fun while it lasts, but not something to be fanatical about.

If ever a movie could be a faithful adaptation of a video game, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider would be it.  In fact, if this film weren't completely adopted from a proposed entry in the "Tomb Raider" game series, I'd be very surprised.  From beginning to end, it feels like you're watching cut scenes from the game itself, followed by action sequences that mirror much of the moves and action typically associated with Lara from the home version. 

In that sense, Tomb Raider is a success, in that those who want to see exactly what they would in the video game will get their wish.  However, if you want to actually see a good film, you are definitely spelunking the wrong cave.  This is about as thin and superficial as action movies get, with extremely one-dimensional characters, a nonsensical plot, and every frame crafted to exude cool at any cost.

Angelina Jolie (Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Bone Collector) does a credible job as Lara Croft, the wealthy aristocrat who follows in her deceased daddy's footsteps in finding priceless artifacts for guts and glory.  She's a sexy and dangerous character, a thrill-seeker specializing in various forms of gymnastics, hand-to-hand combat, and can handle a gun or two (usually two.)  Her latest adventure sees her trying to save the world from a cult called the Illuminati, who want to control time through an ancient relic which is only accessible when all nine planets in the solar system converge, roughly every 5000 years.  Lara seeks the artifact for herself, but also wants to thwart the Illuminati plans, as well as that of rival tomb raider, Manfred Powell (Glen, Resident Evil: Apocalypse).

Director Simon West (Con Air) does a terrific job in handling the impressively conceived and mounted action pieces, and during these scenes, Tomb Raider comes to life in a big way.   Excellent special effects work dazzle the eyes, while the mostly techno soundtrack keeps the action moving briskly. 

Alas, just like the experience of playing the game, there's those damn obligatory scenes in between the big action pieces, but unlike the computer program, you can't hit just click a button to take you to the next action sequence.  Instead, there's a lot of mumbo jumbo about the mission, some bland father-daughter tie-ins, and lots of cheesecake shots of Jolie getting in and out of water or doing some sort of exercise that requires skin-tight clothing.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a near miss in terms of entertainment, delivering the goods in the action and special effects department, but missing the boat completely in all other respects.  More attention to character would have helped, as well as some toning down of the Indiana Jones/James Bond plagiarism that seems to run rampant throughout the franchise.   It's probably decent enough when you're in the mood for some mindless thrills, but it's not much more exciting than watching the video game version in demo mode.

-- Followed by Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)       

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo