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(2003) (Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: An adventurous archaeologist sets out to stop a biological terrorist from finding and unleashing the deadly contents of Pandora's Box.
Lara Croft (ANGELINA JOLIE) has arrived off the coast of Greece to investigate Alexander the Great's Luna Temple that's just been unearthed by an earthquake. Beyond the bounty of archaeological artifacts, the tomb raider is most interested in finding a magical orb that serves as a map to the legendary Pandora's Box. Located in the Cradle of Life, the box contains a powerful, deadly and unstoppable force that could kill millions.

Lara wants to prevent that from happening, but Asian criminal Chen Lo (SIMON YAM) and his men arrive on the scene, battle Lara and take the orb. They intend on selling it to former scientist turned biological terrorist Jonathan Reiss (CIARÁN HINDS) who in turn wants to sell its contents to the highest bidder.

Realizing she'll have a hard time finding Chen Lo in China, Lara secures the release of former agent turned traitor Terry Sheridan (GERARD BUTLER), who just so happens to also be her former lover. The two then set out, with the remote aid of computer expert Bryce (NOAH TAYLOR) and African native Kosa (DIJIMON HOUNSOU), to find Chen Lo and stop Reiss from using the orb to find Pandora's Box and then unleashing its deadly contents.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
When people learn I'm a movie reviewer, they usually enviously state that I have the best job in the world. I'll admit that it has its perks, but there's a lot more to it than simply getting to watch movies for free. Of course, most average viewers don't even see one film a week (whereas I've had to see more than 10 in 5 days on occasion) and they can pick and choose what they want to see. If we could do the latter, we'd be the happiest lot on Earth.

Alas, that's not the case and we thus have to sit through dreck like "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life." Beyond the unnecessarily elongated title, this sequel to the 2001 film - which was based on a popular videogame and its busty heroine - is bad in just about every way imaginable.

Like its predecessor, this one follows the titular role in stealing material from the Hollywood vaults. Beyond the general James Bondish globetrotting, stunts and big action set pieces, there's the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" rip-off featuring a villain who wants the power of Pandora's Box as opposed to the Ark of the Covenant. There are also bits and pieces lifted from the likes of "Harry Potter," "The Mummy" and even a concluding villainous meltdown that looks like it was a discarded prototype from a similar scene in "Terminator 2."

With all of the necessary exposition having been dealt with in the first film, this one quickly jumps into the meat of the plot. Unfortunately, novice screenwriter Dean Georgaris's "villain who wants to sell his weapon (the cataclysmic contents of the Box) to the highest bidders" story has been told before and often far better.

The sparse tale - that regurgitates elements from the first film - is just a flimsy structure that 1) got the second unit camera crew traveling the globe for establishing shots and 2) is used to hang the film's various stunt and action-based scenes.

Alas, even they are more boring than the skimpy drama. All of which seems to prove that director Jan De Bont's early success with "Speed" and parts of "Twister" was just a fluke (since then he's directed the awful "Speed 2: Cruise Control" and the remake of "The Haunting").

Choreographed and shot in a slipshod fashion with sudden and distracting slow motion footage that looks like a cover-up of some sort of mistake rather than a "cool" effect, the action scenes pack little, if any punch and are arguably the worst of the year.

They're accompanied by an annoying and atrocious techno-rock soundtrack that, coupled with the fact that we don't care about any of the characters, their goals and/or the apparent fate of the world, only makes matters worse. Granted, most videogames only have the player concerned with their own well-being rather than that of other characters. Yet, at least they're engaging enough (to a certain extent) to make them palatable. With the way this mess is force-fed to viewers, they're apt to choke and/or gag.

It's been reported that Angelina Jolie ("Life or Something Like It," "Original Sin") wanted to create a more dramatic version of the title character as compared to the cartoonish one the first time around. Perhaps we'll see that in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life: The Attack of the Colons," because it's not on display here. Still sporting computer-game makeup and the famously accentuated bosom, Jolie stares, sneers and makes snide remarks (in a forced-sounding accent), but her character is barely human.

Gerard Butler ("Reign of Fire," "Dracula 2000") plays her former bad boy love interest this time around, but their chemistry together - be it romantic, action-based or otherwise - is flat. Speaking of being spatially challenged, Ciarán Hinds ("Road to Perdition," "The Sum of All Fears") can do nothing with his one-dimensional villain character, Noah Taylor ("Max," "Vanilla Sky") barely has anything to do in reprising his role from the first film and Dijimon Hounsou ("Biker Boyz," "The Four Feathers") plays, of all things, a tribal translator.

At the end of the film, a character states that some things are not meant to be found. They're referring to the sought-after ancient container, but I'm warning you now that if you seek out this film, you'll be opening a cinematic Pandora's Box that will expose you to the sort of bad filmmaking that will likely drive you from your seat (if it doesn't bore you to death before that). "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" rates as just a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed July 23, 2003 / Posted July 25, 2003

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