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Tomb Raider
a.k.a Indiana Jolie and the Temple of Dumb
Reviewed by Jason Myers, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Simon West (Director)
Genre:   Adventure / Fantasy
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

I love silly over-the-top action movies, when they're done well. I saw Mortal Kombat twice in the theater, but wasn't too keen on Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. I enjoyed Mission Impossible 2, but Broken Arrow didn't thrill me. Con-Air (directed by Simon West) was great fun, but Tomb Raider (also directed by Simon West) was a great… disappointment.

The movie has a few things going for it. Angelina Jolie is perfect as Lara Croft. Okay, yes, those lips, those hips, those eyes, those thighs, those boots, those… but you're losing sight of what's important here. Her attitude. She's got this perfect devil-may-care smirk. And she could give Chow Yun-Fat a run for his money the way she handles those two pistols.

What else? The villain (Iain Glen) wasn't half bad. Chris Barrie (Rimmer, the hologram from Red Dwarf) is wonderful as Lara's butler. The soundtrack is pretty groovin'. And there are two gratuitous shower scenes, one for the guys, and one for the gals. Let's hear it for equal opportunity titillation.

Okay, that's it. That's the whole list of good things about Tomb Raider.

Well, what about the action? In short, it's all been done before. If you haven't seen any action movies in, say, the last four years, you might enjoy it. But what's there is so 1999. It's not just that Simon West stole ideas from other action movies. That happens all the time. It's that the visual tricks he uses were slick and shiny and innovative once upon a time, and now they're not.

The one set-up that interested me had some of the characters climbing a huge rotating celestial clock like what Aughra has in The Dark Crystal. Also, Lara using sled dogs to snow ski was nifty. But there was no suspense. None. There were moments of sheer cool (like the way Lara reloads her guns), but, overall, there are more vicarious thrills to be had from sitting in the dark watching someone else play Resident Evil.

Of all the CG foes that Lara fights, only the robot looks realistic. The others are terrible. Just terrible. Once upon a time, I thought that the idea of statues coming to life was damn cool. But then came The Haunting, and then came The Mummy and its sequel. And now there are the spear-wielding monkey-faced statues in Tomb Raider. I first saw those walking statues in a Coke commercial, or some other such cross promotion for Tomb Raider, and I thought "Surely they just made this thing up for the commercials, like the annoying alien who kept shilling for Phantom Menace tie-in products. They won't actually have something that stupid looking in the movie." But I was wrong. Come on, people, how long ago was Jurassic Park made? CG monsters can be done well, but the interaction between humans and monsters was more believable in those decades-old Ray Harryhausen movies.

Tomb Raider makes use of a time-honored action movie device: the one in which its assumed that everything will be more exciting if it's done at the last possible moment. The characters in Tomb Raider have several time-sensitive tasks to perform. You see, the artifacts that they are looking for can only be retrieved during specific planetary alignments, and the window of opportunity is rather narrow.

Now, picture this. You are the Illuminati, a shadowy organization that has been waiting 5,000 years to claim some all-powerful triangle thingy. You've known the location of your artifact for millennia, you just haven't been able to access it. Do you a) Go there ahead of time, search the place from top to bottom, establish a permanent presence, and figure out exactly how everything works, or do you b) not explore the place, and wait until the last minute to go there, not worried in the least that if you get stuck in traffic for an extra fifteen minutes, you'll have to wait another 5,000 years?

Okay, again, picture: You're trying to stop the Illuminati. So you arrange things so that, if you die, your daughter will learn all about the triangle thingy. Do you 1) mail her a posthumous message a few months, or even a few years, before the great conjunction, to give her time to prepare and figure things out, or do you 2) Give her approximately an hour to make plans to save the entire world?

There many plot devices that could make it so that the characters have to cut everything close to the wire. Unfortunately, the plot device West decided to use was "Okay, everyone in this movie is incomprehensibly stupid."

The weak part of West's Con-Air (aside from Cage's Elvis accent) was his attempt to give Nicolas Cage some emotional motivation. Somehow Cage was doing all this ass-whupping because he loved his wife and daughter. Who cares?

Tomb Raider does something similar. Her motivation is her dead father (played by Angelina Jolie's real, and real creepy, father, Jon Voight), and there's some side motivation involving Alex Cross, a romantic interest. They have a history together, not that we ever learn what it is. On top of that, Lara evidently has a special destiny, 'cause she keeps having these visions. Butterflies show her how to get into a temple, little girls appear and disappear, and monks give her advice. But they're just incongruous pit stops on the way to the next action sequence. It's one to keep your characters one-dimensional on purpose. But instead, West tosses around a bunch of clichéd, half-baked attempts at character development.

The Tomb Raider video games were the female answer to INDIANA JONES. And the plot of Tomb Raider reflects that, with exotic locations, booby traps, ancient prophecies, and mysterious artifacts. But Tomb Raider has precious little sense of wonder or sense of adventure. Even though the Mummy movies were far from perfect, they at least understood what made the Indiana Jones trilogy so much fun. Tomb Raider does have a strong female character, and as such probably has a built-in audience, but Lara Croft is a good action heroine trapped in a bad action movie.

My friend Craig Mooock wrote me: "I just saw tomb Raider and it sucked. I would not even recommend seeing it at the Dollar Theater. It was poor. I saw that it got three stars in some mag. I think that the mag. was paid off. It was crap!!!!! Print that in your website!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I disagree with him. As incoherent and scattershot as it is, I think it's worth going to see at the Dollar Theater. I can't exactly give it a ringing endorsement, though. How about this one: Go see Tomb Raider. It's better than Barb Wire and Batman and Robin put together!


Film/DVD editor Jason Myers told Angelina Jolie that he would give Tomb Raider a good review in exchange for certain favors. It was worth a try.

 
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