Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
dir. Simon West
Now playing at various theaters.

Movies and video games get closer and closer together in the pop-culture vernacular. One of these days we're going to all wake up, take off our headphones, and discover a new genre: the movie game.

In the meantime, Hollywood feeds us monstrous hybrids. The latest is Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which wants to have a plot like a movie while looking like a video game. The Tomb Raider series of loosely cinematic action games, made by Eidos, has gotten lots of attention for its busty main character, Lara Croft. Some people have even tried to interpret Croft's popularity as having a kind of Charlie's Angels postfeminist import--she is supposed to be a polylingual and kickass (if voluptuous) adventurer--but one look at the video game leaves little doubt that her primary appeal is in the "if voluptuous" department.

Even the incredibly curvy Angelina Jolie needs some costuming help to portray Croft in the movie version of Tomb Raider, in the form of a padded bra. Thus hefted, Jolie seems to have trouble forgetting about her chest and imbuing her character with more personality than a little swagger can convey. It's hard to blame her much, though, since the plot offers all the motivation of a five-cent allowance raise.

Here it is: When not off on adventure, Lara, billionaire daughter of a dead archeologist, spends time at her mansion perfecting her fighting techniques with a giant bug-shaped robot, and gazing through a super-sized telescope at the ongoing alignment of planets. She misses her father. One night she is awakened by the sound of a ticking clock, which she traces to a secret room beneath the stairs. Smashing into said room (no ladylike delicacy for her), Lara discovers a strange object. It looks like a clock and like a key. It looks, in fact, very much like the disc-shaped object in Raiders of the Lost Ark (all suggestions of plagiarism and crass product endorsement in this review, however, are merely the critic's opinion).

Perplexed, Lara brings the object to an old friend of her father. He betrays her by sending her to the evil lawyer Manfred Powell (the reptilian Iain Glen), who wants the object because it will lead to a more powerful object that can control time. Powell sends a crack team of well-equipped thieves to rob Lara of the disc-shaped key; the thieves arrive, inconveniently, while she and her breasts are bouncing around her three-story living room on a two-way bungee cord.

Lara and the household computer geek, Bryce (who is conspicuously drinking a Pepsi), defeat the intruders, but not before one or more of them manages to escape with the object. A UPS delivery man arrives early the next morning. Surveying the demolished mansion, he queries, "Whoa! What happened here?" "I woke up this morning," Lara replies, "and I just hated everything." (This is the wittiest line in the movie.) The delivery man hands Lara a letter. It's from her father, sent posthumously! Opening it, Lara finds a clue that leads her to a map, which sends her on a trip to the jungles of Cambodia.

Lara, her Land Rover jeep, and her thigh-strapped guns arrive in Cambodia and find Powell already breaking into an ancient temple. Not only that, but Lara's prickly crush, Alex West (Daniel Craig), a fellow tomb raider, is there as well, working for the bad guy! Lara, however, beats them to the inner temple by taking the back door, and outsmarts them by finding the real interface for the key. She ends up with one half of the mysterious object. The other half is somewhere in Siberia.

Bryce uses his Sony VAIO to locate the temple in Siberia, and the same adventure sequence as before is repeated, to much the same effect. Crisis averted. Game over.

The thing about Tomb Raider wanting to be both video game and movie is that, while there is great pleasure in not knowing--or caring--what's real on the screen as opposed to what is computer-generated, there is simultaneously little reason for a director to explain how things work in this world. This is Tomb Raider's downfall. In a movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark, using limited special effects, what fascinated were the mechanics of the traps in the tombs. It was not difficult to believe that ancient cultures could have rigged a giant boulder to tumble down when a certain lever was pressed, and therefore Indiana Jones' heroism, and the film's suspense, resided in learning how he would outsmart his long-dead predators.

There is one strange scene in Tomb Raider where both Lara and Alex notice that the temple they have raided is filled with bas-relief sculptures bearing holes the suspicious circumference of a blow dart. There's no mistaking this reference, or the outcome it implies. In fact, however, the tomb turns out to be guarded not by darts but by giant stone monsters that come alive with elaborate and boring digital quickening, a sure signal that the days of Indiana Jones, and of real movie adventure, are history.

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