Friday, April 27, 2007

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Back when this film came out, it looked like it might stand a chance of being the first good video game adaptation. It had the budget to deliver the requisite spectacle, it had a decent cast, and the early trailers made it out to be an entertaining if derivative adventure film. While it may have catapulted star Angelina Jolie into mega stardom and remains the most successful video game adaptation yet made, the film itself is underwhelming.

'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' tells the story of Lara Croft (Jolie), a wealthy English aristocrat who happens to go adventuring in exotic locales, raiding tombs and securing ancient artifacts. She's assisted by her butler Hillary (Chris Barrie) and techie Bryce (Noah Taylor). Lara discovers a strange device in a secret room within her mansion that was placed there by her father, the late Lord Croft (Jon Voight). She receives a letter left behind by her father instructing her to use the device to obtain and then destroy the two halves of a magic triangle, an artifact that gives its wielder the power to control space and time (or something). The powerful, super-secret Illuminati are looking for this triangle, which must be in a certain place at a certain time when all the planets are aligned for its power to be unleashed. One half of the triangle is hidden in Cambodia, and the other in Siberia. Lara attempts to track down the pieces of the triangle, but is forced to contend with (and occasionally work with) the Illuminati's crew, led by a man named Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) and assisted by a tomb raider for hire and former acquaintance of Lara's, Alex West (Daniel Craig). Plenty of adventuring and action ensues.

The plot is quite weak, and is in many ways ridiculous, as part of the threat of the artifact is actually only unleashed as a result of Lara's actions in the first place (if she had never discovered the clock, there would never have been any threat). The writing is also forgettable, with scant little (and poor) characterization and cheesy moments galore. It just tries too hard to be cool. Seriously, Indy was cool because he was a tough bastard who was also human, and not some vacuous superman who just pouted and posed. The villains are also fairly sketchy and unmemorable. Simon West's film looks cheap and ugly for a major Hollywood film, the humour is mostly flat, the 'character' moments carry little emotional weight, and the action scenes are full of effects but rarely elicit any sense of danger or excitement. They're passably enjoyable, with the one truly original and interesting scene being the 'bungee ballet' sequence, which sadly segues into some sloppy and barely coherent action.

Which leaves the cast, who are also a mixed bag. Glen and Craig are both stodgy as the villain Powell and hired hand Alex West. It was amusing to see Craig in this complete with dodgy American accent, years before he landed the role of 007. Taylor and Barrie are quite fun as the techie and the butler respectively, with Barrie in particular being hilarious in his few moments (Red Dwarf fans know how funny he can be). Strangely, even Powell's assistant, Mr. Pimms (Julian Rhind-Tutt) was somewhat amusing. This was one of those rare occasions where I actually welcomed the inclusion of the perfunctory comic relief sidekicks! And finally, of course, there's Jolie, who's the best part of the film. I can't imagine any other actress pulling this off - besides being easy on the eyes, Jolie is enigmatic and also seems dangerous and a little insane, which works in making Lara at least marginally interesting. It's a shame the filmmakers decided to spend too much time focusing on making Jolie anatomically match her pixelated counterpart instead of trying to create a genuine character. Oh, and Jon Voight phones in a lousy performance in the minor role of Lord Croft.

So all in all, a mediocre film - it isn't terrible, but it's far from being good. It's possible to sit back, turn off your brain, and enjoy it at some level, but why bother when there are so many better things to do? There's better cheesy action adventure films out there as well; watching this is just a waste of time.

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