CROFT, TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (2003)
Director: Jan de Bont
I believe I'm accurate when I say that are very few movies based on video games that are actually good. I could count the number of good video game movies on one hand and have fingers left over. One of these rare movies is Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, based on the insanely popular game franchise distributed by Eidos Interactive. Nobody will accuse the movie of being a groundbreaking cinematic achievement, but it was an entertaining movie, and that can go a long way. Unfortunately, Paramount Pictures had to go and muck things up with a sequel. Following the precedent set by New Line Cinema's pair of Mortal Kombat movies, Paramount followed up a fun, charming movie with a movie that throws up all over itself before patiently waiting to die. That movie, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, is a downright poor sequel that could have been so much more.
Once again, our story centers around adventurer Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), who MI6 attempts to draft into service in their hunt for evil scientist Jonathan Reiss (Ciarán Hinds). Reiss is hunting for the mythical object known as Pandora's Box, and MI6 needs Croft to find it before he does. Though reluctant, she agrees to help them out after learning that Reiss is working with Chinese gangster Chen Lo (Simon Yam), whom Lara wants to get a piece of after a violent encounter between them a few days earlier. But her help comes with a catch; Lara stipulates that a past associate, a mercenary by the name of Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), be freed from a prison in Kazakhstan so he can assist her. MI6 complies, and he and Lara traverse the globe to find Reiss and stop him from acquiring Pandora's Box and unleashing the evil inside it.
I'm almost afraid to really go into everything wrong with Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, because if I start, I don't know if I'll be able to stop. I can forgive a movie's flaws as long as it does something to make up for them. The first Tomb Raider movie succeeded in overcoming its flaws by being a lot of fun, but this sequel doesn't have much of anything to help it. It does so much wrong, but can't seem to do anything right. The direction is pedestrian, the script is absurd beyond words, and the cast seems like they'd rather be off doing something else. I would say that The Cradle of Life is less than the sum of its parts, but that sum isn't too high either.
I guess we'll start with the movie's fearless leader, Jan de Bont. De Bont's first movie as a director was the very awesome Speed, but I'd go out on a limb and say that his directorial career has gone downhill ever since. And with The Cradle of Life, it appears he may have scraped the bottom of the barrel. (Though after Speed 2: Cruise Control, he was probably already there.) De Bont just shows a general ineptitude, poorly crafting an already ludicrous story. He and cinematographer David Tattersall do a poor job of filming the movie (though there are a few fleeting spots of brilliance), and de Bont grossly overuses the slow-motion feature on the editing equipment. Does EVERY action scene need two or three slow-motion shots? I'll be the first one to complain about super-fast editing in action scenes, but this takes it to the opposite extreme. It's excessive to the point that it makes Uwe Boll's overuse of badly-done "bullet time" effects in House of the Dead look nearly acceptable. Everything blends together in a big, monotonous blur after a while, with no one scene really standing out from any other.
And it doesn't help anything that a lot of the sets don't look like real places at all. Even the stuff shot on actual locations, especially the Hong Kong stuff, looks like it was filmed on some cheaply organized Hollywood backlot. That really takes away from anything positive about these scenes. And then there's the fact that de Bont apparently made the movie with gay men and jealous girlfriends in mind, because most of Lara's sex appeal is gone. One of the video game heroine's primary traits is that she's going about her business in the sexiest way possible, but de Bont goes about things like he's trying to avoid showing her in any sort of titillating situation. Many of her outfits specifically the skin-tight silver wetsuit, as depicted in the poster above don't really do a whole lot for her, and when she's actually wearing the flattering costumes, the scenes are badly shot and edited. So yeah, de Bont's work is pretty much crap.
Next up is the piss-poor script, written by Dean Georgaris from a story by Steven F. de Souza and James V. Hart. Sure, he didn't write the final script, but I want to blame Steven de Souza for the script's lackluster quality. I say that because after writing and directing that absolutely dreadful Street Fighter movie, nobody should ever let de Souza anywhere near a movie again. Well, at least not video game movies. The script is badly composed, vacuous, full of lame dialogue ("You can break my wrist, but I'm still going to kiss you."), and boasting an incredibly unsatisfying ending with no real payoff and scenes that are flat-out insane. Take, for example, a scene near the beginning of the movie. Separated from her boat off the coast of Greece, Lara decides to cut her arm and let a little blood in order to get the attention of a shark. When a shark does show up, what does she do? She punches the shark in its nose (causing it to whimper like a hurt puppy), then grabs its fin and catches a ride on its back. What the hell is that?! Seriously, what is that crap? Who decided that was a good idea? I'd expect that out of one of one of those awful Jaws sequels, but this? Sigh... sometimes I just don't know what to make of the world anymore.
Lastly is the cast, who are, for the most part, sadly unimpressive. That's a real bummer, too, because the cast was one of the strongest parts of the first movie. While I thoroughly enjoyed Angelina Jolie's work in the previous film, her performance here left a lot to be desired. She's awfully wooden in the role, like she realized just how bad the movie would be, and didn't bother putting forth any sort of effort as long as her paychecks cleared the bank. That's a real shame, too, because a good performance from Jolie probably could salvaged at least a small piece of this drek. And not only is our heroine dull, but our villain hands in an utterly banal performance as well. Ciarán Hinds does a really substandard job, making his character one of the worst cinematic villains of this decade. Simon Yam is decent, but his screen time is so limited that we can never really get a feel for him. The best performance, though, comes from Gerard Butler. He plays his role the same way Jolie played her character in the first movie, with a brash cockiness that makes him worth following.
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. But there's not a whole lot about it to like. Gerard Butler's watchable performance and Alan Silvestri's acceptable music just aren't enough to save the movie from being 117 minutes of downright boring tripe. And that's really the worst part about the whole thing: it's so boring. I actually had to watch the movie in pieces, because I kept getting distracted by other, more interesting things. Like watching paint drying and grass growing, those sort of more interesting things. My final verdict for Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is two stars, and I'd like to close with a little advice. If you have to watch a movie featuring a mythical golden box that kills people when it's opened, make sure you watch Raiders of the Lost Ark instead of this. At least they opened the box in that movie.
Final Rating: **