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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 25, 2003

Angelina Jolie can't raise 'Tomb Raider' sequel above its hokey script

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News


No matter how attractive or resourceful Angelina Jolie makes the adventurer-hero of this series, she can't rise above a generic script that falls short as a comic action thriller. Also starring Ciaran Hinds and Gerard Butler. Directed by Jan de Bont. Paramount Pictures, 115 minutes.

Like cheap wine in an expensive bottle, "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" looks great until you get past the packaging.

If casting is 90 percent of filmmaking, the people who took this series from the realm of video games to the big screen lucked out when Angelina Jolie, the physical embodiment of archaeology's favorite cyber-babe, happened on to the scene.

But even Jolie's sly, tough-edged presence isn't enough to elevate the various recycled elements that are cobbled together into this distaff blend of Indiana Jones and James Bond. Dean Georgaris' script feels as though it were assembled from an action-thriller Erector set and director Jan de Bont lacks the wit to give any new life to the various action-movie cliches.

Put it this way: In a two-hour movie that offers dazzling scenery from London to Hong Kong to Africa, the best they can do for an ending is a showdown on a phony-looking set on a soundstage, with special effects out of "Star Trek." (And I'm talking classic "Star Trek" not "TNG.")

Jolie brings a kind of bored avidity to the role of Lady Croft, the adventurer-scientist-historian-secret agent whose avocation is fighting world-threatening bad guys for the British government. Her sleepy-eyed smile reveals the obvious tactile joy she gets from handling a precious historical artifact. It's as though she is experiencing the history it represents just by holding it.

But she's caught up in a mundane doomsday plot in "Cradle," involving a search for what may be Pandora's box. This artifact apparently carries many of the same attributes as the lost ark of the covenant, in terms of potential harm should it fall into the wrong hands.

Those wrong hands are attached to evil entrepreneur and scientist Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds). He's a recklessly wealthy villain who sells designer bio-weapons and sees the Pandora formula as the ultimate score, despite its potential for wiping out all of humanity with an incurable plague.

Much of Jolie's performance consists of fashion show active wear for the girl whose busy career includes regular bouts of gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. There's so little heat to the writing that it's hard to get worked up about the sparks of romance between Jolie and Gerard Butler, as a mercenary who once betrayed Lara but who gets a second chance because she requires his skills to save the world.

Interestingly, "Cradle of Life" is one of the few big-budget action movies this summer that doesn't mimic the style of Hong Kong action films, despite several sequences actually set in Hong Kong.

Hinds, usually an intriguing actor, lets his scowl do the acting. Most of Butler's charm derives from his Irish accent, while the wan witticisms supplied to Noah Taylor and Christopher Barrie (as Lara's tech-support team) mostly fall flat.

It's rare — and therefore welcome — to see a female action hero with brains and wit. Too bad "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" has so little on its mind.

Rated PG-13 for profanity, violence, sexuality.