Lara Croft : Tomb Raider



USA 2001
director : Simon West
script : Patrick Massett, John Zinman (‘adaptation’ by West, story by Sara B Cooper, Mike Werb, Michael Colleary)
cinematography : Peter Menzies Jr
editing : Dallas S Puett, Glen Scantlebury
music : Graeme Revell
lead actors : Angelina Jolie, Iain Glen, Christopher Barrie, Jon Voight
100 minutes

The idea of a Tomb Raider movie was never very promising, but the resulting full-blown misfire manages to make The Mummy Returns look like Spartacus. We’re talkin Avengers bad: ‘aristocratic’ Brits with ‘secret lives’ of globetrotting espionage/action, pitted against a megalomaniac villain determined to control of a natural force – time, this time, not weather.

All we ask from kickass fare is some basic pacing, a few spectacular set-pieces, a sense of humour and a moderately diverting plot. Lara Croft falls short of even these modest demands. It’s as if the studio commissioned a rough, skeleton script dotted with [INSERT QUIP HERE] and [ADD EXPOSITION] and [CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT COMING SOON], just to work on, then thought to themselves, ‘Oh sod it, enough of the target audience are going to turn up on opening weekend anyway, let’s just go with the skeleton script and see what happens.’

Lara Croft patronises its prime market of pre-teenage boys at every turn, exuding a rotten whiff of cynicism that makes this one of the very worst films of the year. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that there’s something wrong with every shot, and every line of dialogue – if it can actually be called dialogue. More like a contest between the two scriptwriters to see who can come up with the most laughable line: “Welcome to the dead zone,” indeed.

Poor Iain Glen receives more than his share of absurdities and indignities as nefarious ‘lawyer’ Manfred Powell: “This is a pleasurable torment,” he purrs early on, but audiences are more likely to agree with the ‘witticism’ he delivers as he blows away a mumbling elderly mystic: “Enough of this twaddle!” Like most of the cast (Leslie Phillips, Daniel Craig, Richard Johnson, Noah Taylor, ‘Christopher’ Barrie) Glen is a talented actor. As Craig comments on Lara/Jolie: “She’s in in for the glory, I’m in it for the money,” and whatever they’re all getting paid, it isn’t enough.

The peak of banality is reached when Lara, having briefly taken control of time (or something), finally gets to ‘meet’ her long-dead Papa (Jon Voight) again. Having spent the whole picture exercising her Electra complex and mooning about Daddy, how does she sum up her years of loss and grief? “It’s not fair!” she pouts. “No, it’s not fair,” is Voight’s sizzling response. Huh??

Played for laughs, Lara Croft might have clicked as campy, kitschy fun. But director West, unbelievably, takes everything ramrod-straight, whether it’s the limp Lara-Daddy ‘back story’ or the unforgivably sub-Highlander mystical mumbo-jumbo that poses as a plot: it’s all to do with the Illuminati, a sub-X Files troupe of sinister oldies we meet in what an on-screen title helpfully identifies as ‘Venice, Italy.’ But who’s that sitting alongside the head honcho – surely it’s Udo Kier, Andy Warhol’s Dracula in the 70s and now a great-value cult-cameo artiste (My Own Private Idaho, Blade, Dancer In The Dark and The Idiots). It’s hard to tell, since that one glimpse is all we get – if it is Kier, can there have been a more idiotic, criminal underuse of an actor in movie history?

Presumably Kier’s scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor – several key moments from the trailer didn’t make it into the main feature, either, including a key dialogue exchange between Jolie and Glen. And Daniel Craig’s role as Lara’s ‘love interest’ Alex West is also revealingly disjointed – which makes you wonder, if this is what they left in, what on earth did they leave out?

As you’d expect, the sets are eye-popping, but all that expense counts for nothing when placed at the service of a director with such a minimal awareness of how to use people and space. There’s a desperation in the actors’ eyes that suggests they’re getting zero help from the director’s chair. If anything, the opposite is true – some speeches have been sabotaged in post-production with clumsy dialogue looping. West can’t even handle the action sequences, often cocking them up with random, pointless slow-motion. His main stylistic influence appears to be the ‘exotic temple’ pre-main-feature advert, in which a camera arbitrarily loops around the dusty insides of some ancient ruin while birds squawk and a doomy far-eastern melody tinkles and rumbles on the soundtrack, for maybe 30 seconds. Tomb Raider is like watching the damn thing 200 times over, except not quite so much fun.

July 8th, 2001
(seen at Warner Village, Newcastle, 2-Jul-01)

For the many other films as bad as this (and worse) check out our Diorama of Dishonour

by Neil Young