Lara Croft: Tomb Raider [2001]

Like the video game series it's based on, Tomb Raider is best enjoyed for its physical strategies, since even casual scrutiny of story details will induce a headache. It's more concerned with puzzles than plot, populated with characters that don't have personalities so much as attitudes. It's silly and somber at the same time, but as a franchise vehicle for Angelina Jolie in the title role of relic hunter Lara Croft, this is packaged entertainment at its most agreeable, ambitious in scope and scale, and filled with the kind of globetrotting adventure that could make Jolie the best thing that's happened to action movies since Indiana Jones. Could being the operative word here, because Tomb Raider can't match any of Steven Spielberg's celebrated joyrides, but the ingredients are there for an exquisitely cinematic meal. Perhaps to distance himself from Lara Croft's video game origins, director Simon West takes things a bit too seriously; Tomb Raider handles its plot (involving a planetary alignment, the nefarious Illuminati, and coveted relics that hold the key to controlling the flow of time) with all the gravity of a championship chess match... minus the tension. If the movie had lightened up and been truly suspenseful (instead of being suffused with been-there, done-that familiarity), it would have been an instant popcorn classic. As it is, however, this is an elegantly mounted adventure featuring exotic locations (in Cambodia and Iceland) and an exotic star born for her role. Even without her padded bra, Jolie would be the living embodiment of Lara Croft, and that's enough to bode well for inevitable sequels. --Jeff Shannon

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