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Tomb Raider

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Angelina Jolie stars in "When Oscar Winners Attack."

2001, Paramount
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Weeks ago I heard that "Tomb Raider" (IMDb listing) was taken away from its director (Simon West, "Con Air") and re-edited and scored by studio-selected professionals. It was a last minute attempt to salvage the allegedly bad director's cut of the film. Normally, I try to stay away from wild, unfounded Hollywood gossip like this, yet while watching "Tomb Raider," the proof of its tampering is clearly on the screen. Awkward and wildly disjointed, "Tomb Raider" plays like a coming attractions trailer for a better film that will never see the light of day.

For this video-game-to-film adaptation, the filmmakers have made a very poor decision by trying to place some huge, unwieldy narrative on a game that was basically a thinly disguised shoot-em-up. It's been a curse that has plagued almost every video game translation ("Super Mario Brothers," "Mortal Kombat"). Honestly, I couldn't tell you what goes on in "Tomb Raider" besides the already established busty, spoiled brat hero Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), her two hand-cannons, and her skintight clothing. Actually, there is a faithful butler (Chris Barrie) who seems to care greatly for Lara, and a tech geek (Noah Taylor, "Shine") who maintains her arsenal. A bad guy shows up belonging to some evil organization and he needs some sort of ancient triangle to stop time and rule the Earth. Lara's father (John Voight, Jolie's real father) also makes an appearance in a handful of heavily whittled down flashbacks, though how he fits into the final film is still a mystery. I'm sure this picture made perfect sense at one point. Nevertheless, the final version of "Tomb Raider" that's entering theaters is nothing more than incoherent mush.

In taking apart the film and putting it back together again, "Tomb Raider" has this airy, unorganized vibe it cannot shake. The opening scene has Lara fighting a gigantic training robot, then showering, then heading right into the story. There is no time allotted to meet any of the characters, and when it sinks in that the plot is nonsense, well, we're pretty much screwed. Throughout the film, scenes begin and end without transition, and the pace of the picture is way off. This intergalactic, superfantastic, $100-million dollar blockbuster is well...boring. Without a reasonable story to anchor it, or characters to enrich it, "Tomb Raider" just lies there on the screen, presumably praying that the adoration of the video game will be enough to tide audiences over.

Trying to be a 2001 "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" set to thumping electronica, "Tomb Raider" has the essentials to be the nail-biting adventure it so desperately wants to be. The sets look great, the costumes are fun and sexy, and the sheer magnitude of expectations surrounding the film—you would think—would be enough to craft even a slightly passable film. But maybe director/writer West knew his film was a losing battle? "Tomb Raider" is filled to capacity with extravagant action set pieces that interrupt the dead dialogue spots in the picture. While deliciously grandiose, the action does little to rile up the proceedings. "Tomb Raider" uses its violence like a crutch to get it through the tough spots that it placed itself into with the overtly complex story, and the transparency of this desperate act is appalling.

The one thing "Tomb Raider" seems to have gotten just right is the hiring of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. You could look up "Perfect Casting" in the dictionary, and a picture of Jolie brandishing two guns—sweaty from the heat of course—would be there. Jolie has the lust for danger Croft needs, along with the curves (though those have been enhanced just a bit), lips, and English accent. It's a good performance from the Oscar-winning actress, yet it's nothing that challenges her. Both Jolie and Lara are tough women who also pride themselves on their playful sexual allure, and West is very aware of Lara's (and Jolie's) appeal to young boys. Half of the film is made up of lavish attention to the character and actress through endless closeups. Jolie is the best thing about "Tomb Raider," and she alone is the only one who survives this train wreck of a film.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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