U.S. Release Date: July 25, 2003
Distributor: Paramount
Director: Jan DeBont
Producer: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Noah Taylor, Djimon Hounsou, Til Schweiger
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (action violence and some sensuality)

A Derivative Raider
by C.A. Wolski

To call Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life anything but derivative would be doing it a kindness it doesn't deserve. The second movie in an evolving franchise lifts the plots from the three Indiana Jones pictures and recycles them into a two-hour, dumbed-down video game plot that will leave audience members asking "Why bother?"

The Cradle of Life opens with Croft (the fetching Angelina Jolie) raiding a lost tomb off the coast of the Greek island of Santorini. There she discovers the map to Pandora's Box (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark), which she promptly loses and vows to get back. However, the map and the box are more than just pretty bobbles. The avaricious Croft is enlisted by Britain's MI-6 (James Bond must have been out to lunch that day) to retrieve the map and keep the box from falling into the hands of Nobel Prize-winner cum international bio-terrorist Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds) (a la Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). According to the movie, Pandora's Box contains "anti-life," a substance that can be subverted into a terrible bio-weapon (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark again).

What follows is an unremitting series of over the top, video game-inspired action sequences that hinge toward the ridiculous. This is particularly evident when director Jan De Bont (a long, long way from Speed) shows Croft doing her derring do in slow motion, the cry of a desperate director trying to infuse drama where there is none.

To double up on the action—this is, alas, a sequel—Croft is teamed with ex-Royal Marine and ex-lover Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler). It's understandable why these two are ex-lovers. There is absolutely no chemistry between them, and Butler looks alternately bored and frustrated throughout the picture. Returning are sidekicks Hillary (Christopher Barrie) and Bryce (Noah Taylor), who have even less to do here than in the first movie. Joining Croft in the last third of the film is Kosa (Djimon Hounsou), an African tribesman, who, like all movie tribesmen, can instantly and conveniently speak all local languages, saving Croft from all sorts of mischief.

The movie belies its video game roots throughout since Croft and Sheridan kill scores, destroy millions of dollars worth of equipment and put thousands in danger, with little concern or apparent effort. As with many of this summer's action flicks, the heroes are nigh on indestructible and the stakes so ludicrous (the description of Pandora's Box is just plain goofy, and then when you see it... oh, boy!), that it's difficult to connect with any of the characters or even care if they succeed. They don't seem really to care themselves.

But a movie has to be judged on its own merits, and Cradle of Life is executed in a sort of workman like fashion. It's a tad slow and overlong mainly because the plot is so thin, but the action sequences have their moments. It derails when the gang reaches the title Cradle of Life, where they encounter shadow demons and a realm where physics don't apply. The ending is lifted almost entirely from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, including the decision about what to do with Pandora's Box. And in the end, Lara Croft, just like the audience, doesn't really care what's happened, who's been hurt or if the world has been saved. It was just another day at the office for this video game heroine.

Those who have any interest in Lara Croft would probably be best served staying home and playing the video game. It'd be more viscerally and artistically fulfilling.

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