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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2001
Uhfmm . . . wham, bam, thank you, ma'am
By KAORI SHOJI
If the name Lara Croft doesn't ring any bells or trigger immediate glandular reactions, don't worry. It just means you're not a "Lara otaku" (video-gamer who spends most waking hours blinking at the world's strongest/sexiest game heroine). First appearing on the small screen in 1966, Lara is a long-limbed, pouting beauty with an unquenchable thirst for adventure and justice, and a penchant for bondage fashion. Oh, and did I mention that she has breasts to rival the Great Pyramids?
The only actress who can conceivably bring all this to the big screen is Angelina Jolie. Currently known as the most eccentric/exciting babe in Hollywood, Jolie has built her reputation on two things: a pair of impossibly provocative lips and a series of suitably provocative statements. "How do you stay fit and beautiful?" an interviewer once asked her. "Oh," she replied, "I have a lot of sex with my husband, Billy Bob Thornton." Brilliant. Just the sort of person you'd associate with archaeology, excavation sites and other details of "tomb-raiding."
Directed by Simon West, "Tomb Raider" is both an otaku dream and a cinematic nightmare. It highlights all the things that keep people glued to their video screens for hours and hours, but throws most of the visual skills and storytelling techniques that filmmaking has accumulated over the past century into a meltdown reactor. To call "Tomb Raider" a movie is to call a Glico pudding a creme brulee. This is not to undervalue the merits of the pudding; it's just a mistake to confuse the two.
Much of the problem with the movie stems from the fact that the camera spends an awful lot of time on Jolie's lips and other outstanding features, and that Lara Croft never says very much. But then, neither does anyone else. At least in "The Matrix," people held conversations, got snide with each other and explained what the hell was going on. In "Tomb Raider," all we get is Lara emitting outrageously sensual sighs every time something amuses or upsets her. It's "uhfmm" when a robot with knives for hands runs after her in a cave, and "uhfmm" when an ex-boyfriend steps out of the shower and presents himself naked.
The whiff of a story is this: British heiress Lara Croft (Jolie) lives on a huge estate left by her late father Lord Croft, an eminent archaeologist (Jon Voight, Jolie's real-life dad) who died in the field. Lara lives with his memory, plus a friendly butler (Chris Barrie) and techy geek-sidekick Bryce (Noah Taylor). It's a nice life, but she pines for a mission that will enable her to "save the universe, again."
She doesn't have to wait long: A secret society of evildoers is out to stop time, taking advantage of a once-in-5,000-years opportunity to pull it off (something to do with the alignment of the planets). They're after money and power, Lara is after adventure and justice. The race to acquire time begins, taking her first to the jungles of Cambodia, then to a swanky hotel in Florence and finally to the white plains of Iceland.
Although Jolie is not the only star in this movie, she may as well be. Most of the screen time is devoted to her and her only, and everyone else passes the remaining crumbs among themselves. Even Voight appears only in the form of brief and murky flashbacks. Iain Glen, for example, who plays her adversary, is one of England's best-loved stage actors, but he's given very little to do except look mildly annoyed every time he shoots someone. Even in his finest moment, when he knocks Lara around in an Icelandic cave and manages to leave a small and attractive cut on her cheek, the camera avoids him and concentrates on Jolie, panting and writhing on the ground. It looks more like she's going through some sexy calisthenics routine and not getting kicked in the gut by a mean Brit. Uhfmm.
But perhaps this is only fair -- after all, who, having seen the posters of "Tomb Raider," who would want to see anyone besides Jolie anyway? And, to her credit, she did many of her own stunts (including a skin-tingling bungee ballet). This, combined with her game-icon physique, is all that "Tomb Raider" has to offer -- and is obviously all that Lara otaku require.