As a rule of thumb, videogames don’t make for good premises for films, as almost everyone ends up settling for less. Gamers usually suffer infidelity to the original game, while producers must find a watered-down concept palatable to the rest of the viewing public. The result is usually a confusing muddle of cross-marketing (be sure to visit your local Taco Bell) and half-assed summer blockbuster filmmaking. Never has this concept been more applicable than it is to the latest videogame to film debacle, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”
“Tomb Raider” follows the adventures of Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie, “Girl, Interrupted”) as she attempts to recover a stolen artifact while wearing as little clothing as possible. The first half of the film is spent mucking around in backstory no-man’s land, until Lara is whisked off to the misty jungles of Southern Californ-,um, Cambodia in order to stop sneering bad guy cliché Manfred Powell (Iain Glen, “Gorillas in the Mist”). Part of a secret fraternity seeking to rule the world, Powell attempts to unite two pieces of an ancient triangle, giving the possessor God-like power. However, Croft is there to thwart his every move, pursing her lips, sticking out her bust and battling bad special effects along the way.
Each sequence is one tremendous insult to the viewer’s intelligence after another. Gamers will no doubt pick up on discrepancies to complain about, while other movie-goers will be flat out annoyed. As though her faux-British accent weren’t enough to reveal her nationality, Lara lives in a lavish mansion with a prim butler who enjoys serving tea and a techno-geek sidekick who ends every sentence with “bugger!” Glen’s bad-guy does everything short of wearing a sign that says “villain”, as he constantly reminds us that he’s in it for the power, not the money. Even Jolie’s much hyped shower scene is kept within the tepid PG-13 limits.
“Tomb Raider” has a look and feel like it was directed by Steven Spielberg’s red-headed stepchild. Wait, scrap that, it looks like it was directed by a 16-year-old to whom Spielberg’s illegitimate grandnephew pitched the idea in a drunken rant. Writer/director Simon West borrows from the “Indiana Jones” trilogy ad nauseum, including elements like the glamorization of impoverished third-world cultures, archaeologists who live in the lap of luxury, and heroes/villains who can withstand infinite punches to the face. West is one of many cattle in producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s herd of yes-men, having made his directorial debut in the Bruckheimer-produced “Con Air.” “Tomb Raider” exhibits all of the notorious Bruckheimer bombast, but without his presence as producer, the quips are even more witless, the characterization more trite, and the explosions more gratuitous.
After the atrocious “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” Jolie continues to choose roles suited more for a comeback attempt by Molly Ringwald than for a recent Oscar winner. Few would argue with Jolie’s blossoming talent, but even she can only do so much with lines like, “It’s a clock. . . I heard it ticking last night.” When her star power is taken away by material as banal as “Tomb Raider,” the result is nothing more than a movie about a sexy girl fighting mythical creatures that doesn’t even have the self-awareness to be campy. Come to think of it, you might want to just stay at home and watch “Xena: Warrior Princess” or “Cleopatra 2525.” They’re pretty campy, they’ve got hot chicks battling monsters too, and you won’t have to sit through any previews for “American Pie 2.”