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'Tomb Raider'

Doomed 'Raider' Is this a movie or a video game?

Friday, June 15, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Here are some of the reasons why "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was a great movie and why "Tomb Raider," which tries so hard to follow in its footsteps, isn't.

"Ark" was the kind of movie that inspired video games. "Tomb Raider" is based on one. To the degree that it seeks to emulate the look and tone of the joystick genre, it achieves some success. It has great sets and after a while, you almost begin to appreciate the ingenuity required to create action scenes this busy and nonsensical. But do you really want to spend an hour and a half watching cut scenes from a video game that you can't play?

    'Tomb Raider'

RATING: PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality.

STARRING: Angelina Jolie, Iain Glen, Daniel Craig, Jon Voight.

DIRECTOR: Simon West.

CRITIC'S CALL: 1 1/2 stars.


While their actions often strained credulity, the characters in "Ark" bore at least some link to reality. When he wasn't hunting antiquities and fighting the Nazis, Indiana Jones had a day job as an archaeology professor. He lived in a nice but cluttered house and reacted to things like a human being: groaning at misfortune, shuddering at snakes, refusing to compromise with evil.

"Tomb Raider," in contrast, is populated with figures who are no more human than the pixels in a PlayStation image. The heroine, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), is a teen-age boy's fantasy woman, buff and tough and so well endowed that it's a wonder she can stand up straight. She lives in a huge mansion with no one but her butler (Chris Barrie) and computer geek pal (Noah Taylor), who prefers to reside in a trailer parked outside. For relaxation, she suspends herself from the ceiling and bungees back and forth -- or fights mechanical monsters firing live ammo.

Indiana Jones -- and his creators -- had a sense of humor that could make you laugh out loud amid all the slam-bang action. Lara Croft and her minions occasionally crack a smirk but almost never smile, much less joke around in anything other than veiled sarcasm. These impossible characters take themselves as seriously as the villain, Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), whose megamaniacal goal is nothing less than to become God, with the help of the device he seeks that would give him power over time.

Finally, "Ark" actually bothered to construct a story around Indiana Jones, one that bore some relation to his work and life and motivated everything he did in the movie. Things happen in "Tomb Raider" because Lara needs them to happen, or because if they didn't, the movie wouldn't be long enough.

"Tomb Raider" credits three people for the story, two more for the screenplay, and director Simon West ("Con Air") also takes credit for the adaptation. If six people worked on the thing, don't you think they'd have filled the holes in the script, developed an internal logic for the movie to follow or merely have come up with something original?

Instead, the plot hinges on the tired old science-fiction canard of a planetary convergence. The ancient scripts have it that if a certain key -- in this case, an odd clock hidden away by Lara's father, a British lord and adventurer -- is placed in hidden locks on opposite ends of the world at precise stages of the convergence, it will reveal two halves of an ancient triangle that, when assembled, allows the bearer to control time.

Got that? Good, explain it to me.

Lara tries to stop Powell from getting the triangle, except when she's helping him (don't ask). She never stops to think that if she just destroys the first triangle, she won't have to go to the bother of finding the second. Or she could just destroy the clock. God knows she seems to enjoy pounding on things and shooting her guns.

I acknowledge that director West and producer Lawrence Gordon and company know their target audience. The movie starts with Lara in action, fighting mechanical monsters within an inch of her life while trying to capture a precious jewel. It is clearly modeled after the bravura opening sequence in "Ark," but it turns out to have no relation to anything that follows. It is there to provide an adrenaline rush for the adolescent boys in attendance.

The very next scene shows Lara taking a shower and ends with a fleeting glimpse of a naked breast. Oh, yes, the filmmakers know their audience.

But they are right about one other thing: Angelina Jolie is Lara Croft. It is impossible to imagine anyone else with the combination of sneer, swagger and sexuality that could fulfill the image of the video-game queen. She is also such a strong screen presence that she almost succeeds in breathing some interior life into this utterly hollow character.

Alas, too much of the rest of the movie suffers from asphyxiation.

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