Something more than a video game but something less than a movie, “Tomb Raider” has some great action sequences and the ever-watchable Angelina Jolie. What it does not have is much of a plot, interesting characters, or a reason to care about the outcome. A clumsy salute to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is just a reminder of how much better that movie is. At least when you are playing the game you have points to keep you going. Here, all you have is a dreary old “cryptic letter from long-dead father” and “mean lawyer from some mysterious coven wants to take over the world by controlling time” story, and the movie sags whenever the action stops.
Lady Lara Croft (Jolie) is something of a cross between Indiana Jones, Batman, and Barbie. She lives in a huge old mansion with an Alfred-style butler and a computer geek (Noah Taylor) who helps her with technology, except when she doesn’t let him – as he meticulously documents each screw he removes from an antique clock she interrupts by smashing it apart. The planets are about to align for the first time in 5000 years, which means that she has just days to collect the two pieces of a triangle that controls time from ruins on opposite sides of the globe. Meanwhile, the bad guys want it, too, and will do anything to try and stop her.
The action sequences are fine, especially one that shifts from Lara’s lyrical, acrobatic session on a bungee cord in her cavernous living room to a full-scale, window-smashing invasion by a small army of masked intruders. I also liked the icy ruins in Siberia. Jolie has the kickboxing skills and the acting chops to deliver what people who go to this movie want to see (she even walks in character, moving like a great panther), but the screenwriter and director let her down when it comes to the boringly generic bad guys and the missing-father motivation. I guess it is too much to expect the people behind this kind of movie to attempt to create a real character or know very much about women, but even by those standards, this movie gets it so wrong that it interferes with our connection to Lara. She is so tough that she shrugs off the near destruction of her home, but she is willing to risk her live to save a man who has done nothing but betray her. She responds to her butler’s “A lady should be modest” by dropping her towel, but her appearance in a dress and hat is considered to be some kind of progress. Lara always looks a little relieved when she gets a chance to fight, and we agree with her.
Parents should know that in addition to the extensive action sequences with characters in peril and many deaths (mostly anonymous minions), there are a couple of bad words and some implied nudity.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Lara is such a loner, and whether she has any interest in the history or art of the treasures she raids from tombs. They may want to discuss some of the conflicts between people who see antiquities as art for universities and museums and those who consider them sacred items that should never be moved. If you had the chance to stop time and see one person who has died, who would it be?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the Indiana Jones trilogy and the director’s previous “Con Air.”