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Kickin' It With 'Lara'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2001


    'Tomb Raider' Angelina Jolie as "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." (Paramount)
Lara Croft has finally loomed large on this old man's radar. Pathetic, isn't it? I have also learned that electricity is wired in almost every home!

Lara is only the world's most popular video game character, adored by controller-clickers all over this planet. A quick search on the Internet gives me a bevy of get-to-know-Lara options.

For instance, I can order a life-size cardboard cutout of Lara (well, Angelina Jolie as Lara), anytime. On this particular Web site, a leggy Lara, dressed in leather, is positioned next to George W. Bush, who's standing, arms by his sides, in a gray suit.

I think I know who's getting more orders.

There's a whole Lara world out there. Which explains the movie that just surfaced, starring Jolie as an energetic, tomb-raiding power babe who somersaults, kicks and likes to fire two guns at a time, John Woo-style. (If any of you Lara Croft fans don't know John Woo, well, I've got something hip over you, ha ha ha.)

So, the question is, does "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" do justice to the cyberspace amazon, the queen of Wayne's World basements around the world? Well, that's for Lara fans to figure out. But I can tell you that – for a modestly budgeted project – this movie's well done and watchable, even occasionally elegant. And it's not hard to sit there watching Angelina Jolie, is it? She takes to the role with just the right combination of physical dexterity, coolness and power-jock vigor.

The story goes like this: Lara comes from a rich background, is highly educated, speaks a ton of languages and can fight with the biggest and best of 'em. Her thing is finding long-lost tombs and uncovering artifacts from long-lost empires. She's an extreme-experience freak, loves to tangle with big, bad guys and beat them.

In this movie she faces a cosmic challenge: locating two separated halves of a mystical triangle and putting them back together. The restored triangle, which gives its new holder mastery of time, is definitely a must-have.

Timing is crucial. Lara must do this when all nine planets in the solar system are going to be in perfect alignment – an event that occurs every 5,000 years. And that's coming up real soon.

Lara, whose quest takes her to the ancient Tomb of the Dancing Light in Cambodia and Siberia's Temple of Ten Thousand Shadows, must also face friendly rival Alex West (Daniel Craig), who has joined up with her archenemy, Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), to find the same thing. She's assisted, as always, by her comic-relief sidekick and cyberguru, Bryce (Noah Taylor). And on the more Obi-Wan Kenobi level, she has the legacy of her dearly departed father (Angelina's real dad, Jon Voight) to honor.

As directed by Simon West, and written by a small army of scribes, "Tomb Raider" isn't a mind-blowing extravaganza of special effects with a fast-paced, migraine-inducing editing style. Rather than the mad, kinetic video-game vigor you'd expect, the movie proceeds at a more leisurely and methodical gait. I rather liked that.

The sets, the work of Kirk Petruccelli, are memorable and intricately detailed. And when Lara takes on some stone gods who come roaringly to life, the fights feel more classic than futuristic, which is good in my book. Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould seems to appreciate old-time special effects master Ray Harryhausen; Lara's tussles with the stone statues smack of Harryhausen-designed battles in the old "Jason and the Argonauts" flick of the early '60s. So there you have it, a movie that doesn't take itself seriously, but is fun enough. Whether that's enough to lure Lara fans out of their basement tombs, well, only a triangle-bearing master of time and space could tell you.

"Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (PG-13, 101 minutes) – Contains video game-style violence and some sensuality. Area theaters.


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