Cradle of Life

Infinitely better than “Pac Man: Deadly Fruit of the Amazon,” the latest “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” film “Cradle of Life” still feels like a souped-up version of the popular video game. This testosterone-heavy action-adventure is a big improvement over the first film, but that’s more of a left-handed compliment than an endorsement. The cinematic equivalent of a Howard Stern wet dream, “Cradle of Life” spends two hours hosing down the audience with one outrageous scene after another, eventually wearing out its welcome and any hope of gaining anything more than a 14-year-old boy fan base.

Angelina Jolie, the Oscar-winning actress whose off-screen antics are much more involved and interesting than anything she has ever done on screen, returns as British archaeologist Lara Croft, a lady by title only, who jets from one end of the world to the other in search of artifacts capable of destroying the planet. Hey, everyone’s got to have a hobby. When she’s not busy saving the world from madmen, Croft relaxes in the spatial estate left to her by dear dead daddy, test driving the latest gadget of her own personal “Q” named Bryce (Noah Taylor).

“Cradle of Life” starts off promising enough, with an underwater earthquake and subsequent attempt to secure an orb that serves as a map to the legendary Pandora’s Box, supposedly an alien artifact containing enough evil to bring the world to its knees, or recall California’s Governor, I’m not sure which. Like her World War II male counterpart Indiana Jones, just as Croft gets her hands on the orb, it’s taken away from her by a platoon of Asian divers and their unscrupulous leader, the evil Chen Lo (Simon Yam), who plans to sell it to criminal mastermind Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), a former scientist who plans to put the power of God into the hands of the highest bidder.

And that’s just in the first fifteen minutes. With no time to spare, Croft recruits former lover and ex-agent Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), a turncoat wasting away behind bars. Caught between a rock (Reiss) and a hard man, I mean place (Sheridan), Croft racks up her frequent flyer miles by visiting Hong Kong, the Great Wall of China, Kazakhstan, and Kenya, obviously hoping that the various locales will help audiences forget that the script by newcomer Dean Georgaris is as thin and inconsequential as a book on sexual techniques written by Janet Reno.

Director Jan De Bont, who has a spotty but regarded track record of mixing strong female characters and break neck action (“Speed,” “Twister”), does succeed in making Croft’s adventures more adventurous. He skillfully creates several set pieces, including the underwater battle at the beginning that recall early James Bond films like “Thunderball,” but can’t escape the male-driven story, penned by Steven E. De Souza (“Die Hard,” “48 Hrs.”) and James V. Hart (“Dracula,” “Hook”) that reduces everyone, including Croft, into nothing more than computer game caricatures.

The writers never think outside the X-Box, giving fans of the game exactly what they want and expect, forgetting that movies of this caliber are supposed to appeal to more than a core audience. It may not be paint-by-numbers film making, but it is definitely a by-the-numbers film that jumps from one cliffhanger to the next without any regard to continuity or logic. As long as Jolie is dressed in costumes that look like they were painted on and can raise her legs above her head, all is well.

Out of character and off screen, I have learned (through talk show appearances) that Jolie is a lot of fun to hang out with. She’s smart, funny, sexy, and obviously capable of tackling characters that share her personal strengths. Unfortunately, that side of Jolie escapes the writers and director of “Cradle of Life,” who force her to recite dialogue that would make Stephen Baldwin wince. Jolie is never allowed to deliver a line as much as shove it down our throats, maybe a defense mechanism to draw attention away from her bosoms. Good luck.

There are other boobs in “Cradle of Life,” most notably the men in Croft’s life, from the slick as oil Reiss, to former lover Sheridan, whose testicles are no match for Croft’s. Hinds play Reiss so over-the-top the film frame literally bursts every time he enters it, while Butler, the cool and seductive star of “Dracula 2000,” is the atypical, just-out-of-prison ex-boyfriend who may good in the sack but is always looking for other ways to screw you.

In its defense, “Cradle of Life” is pretty to look at, and it’s exotic locations do provide a pleasant diversion from the endless and mindless parade of adventure violence that dots the landscape. Perhaps by the time we get to “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Master of Menopause,” the folks running this franchise will get it right.


A not-so-Jolie good time in latest “Lara Croft”


Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Noah Taylor, Ciaran Hinds, Djimon Hounsou, Til Schweiger. Directed by Jan De Bont. Rated PG-13. 114 Minutes.


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