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Tomb for Two, Please...
Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Dir: Jan De Bont
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciarán Hinds, Noah Taylor
The first problem with the film is its title, a clunky mess apparently lacking in any punctuation - I've taken my best guess at what it should be above, even if it doesn't line up with the first movie. But hey, new director, new grammar... Interestingly, Steven E. De Souza gets a screenplay credit this time round - he was one of the people who wrote a rejected script before the original film was made, and I wonder how much has been recycled here.
Certainly, a lot of what was said about the first film applies equally to the sequel; despite much affirmation that, this time, they'd really got hold of the character, the potential remains largely unfulfilled. Instead, we get something that (ironically, in the light of previous comments) nicks large chunks from Indiana Jones, adds a flavour of Mission: Impossible 2 and loses most of the more interesting elements from first time round.
The plot here concerns the search for what is, effectively, Pandora's Box, which turns out to be a genuine artefact containing a deadly plague. Evil overlor...sorry, industrialist Jonathan Reiss (Hinds) wants possession, in order to sell it to the highest bidder as a biological weapon, and use the antidote to control who'll be allowed to populate the post-plague world.
Though most of the film is concerned more with the struggle for possession of an amber orb, which points to the location of Pandora's Box. This contest takes the participants from Greece to England to Kazakhstan to China to Hong Kong to Taipei and finally Kenya, though there's so little local flavour it feels more like an episode of Alias, quickly establishing itself with stock exterior footage, before switching to an obvious sound-stage.
While Barrie and Taylor return as Lara's sidekicks, they get given very little to do, which is disappointing, since their characters were entertaining elements first time up. Instead, Lara gets a sidekick, Terry Sheridan (Butler), a dubious character who first needs to be taken from a central Asian jail, and who was romantically entangled with Croft in the past. His fate is obvious.
Indeed, so is much of the movie, save the opening sequence, which instead opts to be so ludicrous as to defy belief. Lara lures in a shark with her own blood, then turns it into a jet-ski, before being picked up by her own personal F-sized submarine. Even for a video game, this is stretching it, and the sound you hear, is most of the movie's credibility, heading shame-faced for the exit as it mumbles something about another appointment. What little is left, gets swamped in an orgy of product placement that rivals recent Bond movies.
It does give you plenty of time to wonder about little things like the wisdom of instigating a shoot-out in a germ warfare laboratory, how many years have passed since someone parachuting off a tall building ceased to be exciting, and the failure to make Sheridan a credible opponent for a fist-fight with Lara Croft. The finale does feature some interesting CGI creatures, though any explanation of their presence, lust for human flesh, or ability to melt into solid rock is notable by its absence. Jolie still is Lara Croft, to an almost uncanny degree, but even her Oscar-winning talents can do little when faced with a script of such limited means.
Director De Bont can direct action, as was shown in Speed - since then it's been downhill. Twister, Speed 2, The Haunting, and now this, which has almost nothing worth mentioning as far as thrills go. It's nice to see Hong Kong veteran Simon Yam as a smuggler, and his fight with Croft in a cave full of terracotta warriors is kinda cool, but the rest is distinctly mediocre, relying too much on doubles or CGI. The film desperately needs a tent-pole sequence to make you go "Wow!", like the training robot or bungee-ballet from part one.
Not the worst big-budget, girls-with-guns pic of the summer (that'd be Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), but it's significantly below the first film, which was flawed enough in itself. The harsh truth is, there is nothing here that justifies keeping the franchise going, and that's really sad.
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