Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life arrives stillborn, the misbegotten offspring of filmmakers who are so greedy that they probably wouldn't hesitate to plunder a grave or two. I would be tempted to recommend this movie as being entertainment of the "so bad you won't believe your eyes" variety if it wasn't so deadly boring. As impressive as Angelina Jolie's many physical feats may be, it takes even more stamina and fortitude to stay awake during the movie's seemingly endless two-hour running length.

Once more, I feel I must make this plea: please do not throw things at the projectionist or attempt to kill the ushers. All ire should be directed at the men and women at Paramount Pictures.

The first Tomb Raider was dumb fun - a computer game-inspired take-off on the Indiana Jones series with Angelina Jolie bringing everyone's favorite PC adventuress, Lara Croft, to life. Jolie seemed to be having fun, her father was involved (an "olive branch," she would later call it), and the movie had a breezy energy. I enjoyed Tomb Raider, even though it defied logic and many of the laws of physics. Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is just plain dumb. Gone is John Voight (banished from Jolie's personal life as well as her professional one). Jolie shows few signs of enjoying herself. And the movie has abandoned its Indiana Jones motif in favor of a James Bond one. So Lara is now Jane Bond, on her Majesty's Secret Service, with a license to kill and some very bad music to accompany her stuntwork.

If only the badness was relegated to the music... Unfortunately, that's no more than a mild annoyance. Like so many of this summer's would-be blockbuster sequels, this one is determined to prove that it is simple to make action scenes that are dull, predictable, and lacking in even the most rudimentary sense of tension. There's a motorcycle chase with no pursuers (just Lara and a pal zooming around on the bikes with no one behind them). There are fights galore, many of which involve bad CGI monsters or bad CGI collapsing temples. There's more cheese here than in the Kraft section of a large grocery store, but it's all moldy. Maybe The Cradle of Life would have some value as a computer game (although the plot seems more in tune with an Atari 2600 cartridge game than something for a Pentium IV), but, in that arena, there's some interactivity. Here, the filmmakers are playing the audience.

Like most video games, this one is divided into chapters. In the first segment, Lara goes diving into the ruins of an ancient temple in search of a glowing globe. But the treasure is stolen from her by the henchmen of the evil ex-Noble Prize winner Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), who wants it for his own nefarious means. It apparently is the key to locating Pandora's Box, which contains a nasty plague that he can unleash on humanity. Why? Because it amuses him. He is, after, a "modern-day Dr. Mengele." Act II has Lara, now paired with her mercenary ex-lover Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), chasing the globe around China. She eventually catches up to it in Hong Kong. Then it's on to Chapter III, in Africa, where the Cradle of Life/Pandora's Box is guarded by some silly CGI creatures that delight in pulverizing human flesh. Of course, Reiss catches up to Lara and, although he keeps talking about killing her and pointing guns at her head, he somehow never gets around to doing it. Call it the "Talking Killer" syndrome.

The whole movie is kind of a blur - one long, unending descent into frequent watch-checking. A few things stand out. First of all, no matter what the situation, someone has a bad line of dialogue for it. Thus we have this memorable gem to immortalize alongside "We'll always have Paris" and "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" - "You can break my wrist, but I'm still going to kiss you!" What style! What wit! Then there's the scene where Lara tangles with a shark. As it's closing in for the kill, she punches it in the nose, causing it to turn tail and swim away. Too bad Quint didn't know about this method of shark repellant in Jaws.

Once, Jan de Bont directed Speed, a taut thriller about a bus that couldn't drop below 50 mph. As ridiculous as the concept was, it worked, in large part because of de Bont's direction. More recently, however, he has helmed Speed 2 and The Haunting. But Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life represents a new low. This is a clumsy, clunking motion picture that owes its failure as much to de Bont as to the screenwriters. How is it possible to have more than one-half dozen major action sequences and for none of them to generate any surge of adrenaline? And why is The Cradle of Life so long? In part because de Bont leaves too much in that should have been cut. And in part because 75% of the action scenes are filmed in slow motion. I felt like I was watching "The Six Million Dollar Man." And I thought Bad Boys II overused the technique.

At this point, it's probably moot to argue about whether Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is the worst action movie of the summer. I liked Bad Boys II a little less, but making the comparison is like distinguishing between a cow turd and a horse turd. And that pretty much sums it up nicely.

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (United States, 2003)

Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 2003-07-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1