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One Game Dame: 'Tomb Raider' Is a Few Pixels Short of Two-Dimensional

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2001

   


    'Tomb Raider' Angelina Jolie as "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." (Paramount)
Here's Lara's theme: The sounds of silence and emptiness. Awesomely vacant, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," stars Angelina Jolie's lips and breasts and, in a much smaller role, the actual Angelina Jolie herself. It is the perfect modern product: loud, banal, empty, frenzied, plasticized, flavorless, drab, violent in a bloodless way and sexy in a sexless way.

Some movies have no subtext; this one has no text. It has no anything – I couldn't even convince myself that it was there, though I was in a theater for 92 minutes and have no other explanation for the lost time. It's a vapor, a chimera, a gossamer. It certainly has no performances, because of course it has no characters; it has no plot, except as a dim pretext to set up the occasional slaughter-violence so beloved of the video gamer generation; it has no emotion, because nothing is at stake and nothing is real. I would say it has no soul, except nothing these days has much soul, so what's the point?

Derived from the video game that titillated jillions of acne-erupted virgins of both sexes, it offers as heroine a woman with the IQ of Sherlock Holmes's smarter brother, the waist of a wasp, the breasts of a '40s pin-up and the guns of a Ranger battalion. But Lara – at the PlayStation or in the movie theater – is no character at all; she's an action figure and nothing else, some marketing department's sharp take on how to bring the girls into vid culture (they can identify with Lara's brains) without alienating the boys (they can dream of Lara's boobs).

As the movie has it – that is, when it bothers with details, which is rarely enough &#!50; Lara is archaeologist as Brit aristo, who lives in a castle crammed with all the latest high-tech trinkets, and alone in otherwise gun-less England keeps a cache of sidearms around just in case her robots need discipline or the occasional mercenary team drops by for some firefight fun.

Some cosmological event of great import is about to unreel in the sky – planets, comets, satellites, other orbs and nodules, kites even, lining up, that sort of thing, the movie itself doesn't really know or care – and of course the dreaded Illuminoti, that ancient brotherhood that secretly controls life on Earth, yearns to seize the day, literally. By assembling some kind of magic ancient triangle during this time period, they can take control of time itself.

Well, first of all, as all intelligent people now realize, we are not ruled by the Illuminoti! Of course not! How ridiculous! We are ruled by draco-reptilians in their human modalities, as everyone knows! So if the movie can't even get our secret rulers right, how can it be trusted on anything as important as astrology?

As for plot, the movie quickly enough devolves to a race between Lara, on her own, and the Illuminoti dream team consisting of various Euro-trashy looking men in black (headed up by an unknown cheekbone merchant named Iain Glen) and heavily armed commandos. They all want to find the parts of the triangle at various Third World holy sites, which they desecrate with little or no conscience. There's enough of this to suggest that one of the movie's screenwriters may have heard of a movie called "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

At each site, and also in her fancy home to start the game, a big action melee ensues in which Jolie, aided by sharp editing, digital enhancement, computer generated optics and thousands of rounds of blank ammunition, kicks tail, sending all the mean men and ancient Hindu murder goddesses to hell in a hand basket. After which, sweatless, dauntless but with hair ever so slightly mussed, she cocks one eyebrow and utters a quip that someone thinks a real British person might come up with.

There's always a disconnect between the woman Angelina Jolie, who seems rigid and unsure of herself, and the flamboyant exercises Lara goes through in the action sequences. It's as if they bring in a stunt Angelina, but where she finds the sudden grace and athleticism to perform these feats only her computer knows for sure.

As for Jolie's presence, it's mainly about her lips. After carefully monitoring all 184,000 Angelina Web sites in the sort of in-depth investigation for which we here at The Washington Post are renowned (I wouldn't like to predict, but folks, I think I smell "Pulitzer Prize" all over this one), I have concluded that her lips appear even bigger than they were one or two movies ago.

Once they were puffy comfort pillows to make all the boys hate the thin-lipped gals they married and therefore ruin marriages in the thousands, but at some point they ceased to be lips and become some New Thing. Now they are acres of rolling terrain with their own texture and climate, their traditions, their hopes, their fears, their culture. They remain fascinating but they seem to have transcended their biological connection to this pale, thin young woman and become, in themselves, the eighth and ninth wonders of the world.

Those lips, those ey – . . . oh hell, those lips!

"Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (92 minutes) is rated PG-13 for bloodless cyber violence.

 

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