Lara Croft: Tomb Raider seems to be a movie designed first and foremost to prove to the skeptical that there are far worse things awaiting the summer moviegoer than The Mummy Returns. The Mummy Returns was no great shakes, I grant you, but it emerges as the Citizen Kane of summer blockbusters by comparison. It has been argued that it’s unfair to seriously attack Tomb Raider, since this foolish film is based on a video game. That’s all well and good … but if I want a video game, I’ll play a video game. If a video game insists on crossing over into the realm of moviedom, it better be prepared to offer something more than an elaborate fight sequence every 10 minutes. Tomb Raider just isn’t prepared to do that. Instead, it offers Angelina Jolie doing various acrobatics, along with knocking and shooting the crap out of a largely uninspiring array of menaces — all wrapped in a tissue-thin plot. Of course, as a game, this would work well enough, since the player takes an active part in the outcome. As a movie, all you can do is sit there and passively watch her bounce around and tackle the forces of evil — forces that are, sad to say, far from impressive. The very sketchy character of Lara Croft (the press kit tells more about the character than the film gets around to) — an heiress with a penchant for adventure and, yes, acrobatics — finds herself in a race against a mysterious secret society, the Illuminati, and their even more mysterious agent to retrieve the two halves of an artifact that allows its possessor to control time. This would be a serviceable enough plot were it fleshed out with any intelligence, but it isn’t. It’s merely an excuse to move from one action scene to the next, none of which are terribly exciting and few of which offer anything in the way of surprises. The film’s most notable sequence — where Lara fends off a tombful of animated statuary — looks for all the world like outtakes from The Mummy, with Jolie standing in for Brendan Fraser. Unfortunately, Jolie tends to play the role without any of the self-deprecating humor that marked Fraser’s performance. Even when she tries to be wryly amusing — as in a bit cribbed from Raiders of the Lost Ark — she’s altogether too serious about it, the necessary lightness of touch completely eluding her. But what really scuttles the film is its complete lack of an interesting villain. The difference between the plot of Tomb Raider and that of last year’s Dungeons and Dragons is not very great, but the earlier film at least had the wit to offer not only the over-the-top perfidy of Jeremy Irons, but supported him with agreeably vile lesser villains. All Tomb Raider comes up with is the dry nastiness of Iain Glen (Fools of Fortune) in the underwritten role of Manfred Powell. Put plainly, he’s just no fun at all. In the end, that’s what’s mostly missing from Tomb Raider: The film features gorgeous production values, the effects are good, and it’s nice (if unspectacular) seeing real-life father and daughter — Jon Voight and Jolie — playing father and daughter onscreen. Unfortunately, though, there’s just no sense of fun to any of it.
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