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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Jan de Bont of Speed fame's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is the second of the Lara Croft movies, a series based on a video-game character. It's Angelina Jolie again. Doing a much better job, I thought, on the English accent and even a better job on the personality: this time the combination James Bond Charlie's Angel heroine gets to have a few fluctuations of emotion. The story is hilarious: an international criminal who deals in-and creates-biological weapons, Dr. Reiss (Ciaran Hinds-how come the bad guy's always Irish?) wants to get his hands on Pandora's Box. Remember Pandora? In this story, the box, originally from outer space, was discovered in ancient Egypt and re-discovered by Alexander the Great, who hid it again while depositing a map to its whereabouts in a temple in Greece. Instead of all the evils of the world, the box released "life" and now only contains the ur-evil, "anti-life," which turns out, banally enough, to be a plague.

On the occasion of an earthquake on the Greek island of Santorini, the temple surfaces. Lara gets there first (that's why we think she's a tomb raider) with a Chinese crime syndicate in hot pursuit. They acquire the map (to sell it to the bio-weapons dealer, who wants to unleash the contents of the box on the world), and the chase begins.

For those of us less enthralled by watching non-stop loud-sounding improbably special effected action, there's a romantic subplot. The only one who can infiltrate the Chinese mob-and the only match for the havoc-wreaking but magically indestructible Lara-is Terry Sheridan (played by Gerard Butler), consigned to life in prison for theft and treason, having gone into business for himself rather than for Her Majesty. Lara springs him. The action film is then interspersed with questions about their past relationship (were they in love?), their present ("will they or won't they?") and their future-Lara keeps wondering if she will have to kill him.
The thing about this genre, the video game or, rather, the video-game-derived action film-this one being a wacky update of something like Rider Haggard's occult adventure She-is that it mixes classical myth, horror, the occult, and high tech, combining arcane knowledge with an incredibly simplistic plot. There's always the anxiety underlying the celebration of human artifice and high tech, that Nature will inevitably get "her" revenge. What better way to tell that story than through the myth of Pandora's box? Nature, Woman, the Dark Continent: source of anti-life, plague, but also somehow the sacred, not to be disturbed or domesticated by man's schemes and ambitions. The twist here is that a woman's in charge of the narrative, and if there's anything to be salvaged from the dreck that the plot of Tomb Raider is, it's the self-conscious feminist twist on the time-worn tale of Prometheus versus the forces of nature. The movie asks what it might mean, in this day and age, to be the hero who saves an already devastated world from further human destruction. The paranoid reading, of course, is that the girls always gang up on the guys, except that we are all supposed to identify with Lara Croft-she's the object (lots of clothed T and A) and subject-hero at the same time.

Now that I've squeezed about as much meaning as I could from the plot, let me say that it's a very nice cinematographic travelogue; it's better than the first movie; and it's fun to watch Jolie and Butler. It's also incredibly silly, much too loud, and nowhere near as entertaining as Charlie's Angels.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.