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.
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!