Cinema Signal:

Black Hawk Down:
The Shooting Script

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. "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"

The franchise continues with an increased dose of female testosterone, administered by acrobatic designers and stunt coordinators. Though it's not human chemistry that supplies the boost, Angelina Jolie demonstrates what star spunk can turn into as she leads us on a whirlwind of woman to man combat through underwater tombs and hidden mountain redoubts, from Hong Kong to Africa.

Lara Croft (Jolie) accepts the mission to find and protect the "Cradle of Life" (which turns out to be the mythical "Pandora's Box") but only if she can have her choice of companion. This turns out to be her old friend and ex-lover Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) who, if he agrees to his part of the exploit, she will spring from what we discern as an exceedingly miserable prison.

After the tough talk of negotiation, he does accept, providing Croft with as much mental combat with an old flame as the more physical kind against the powerful enemies who are after the same prize she is, but for much more mercenary and sinister reasons.

Heading the list of villains is Jonathan Reiss (Ciar n Hinds) who has the money to hire the hoodlums and wherewithal to get the better of lady Lara. His intent is to sell the ancient object and allow his buyers to open it, knowing that it will destroy most life on the planet. As with many a sociopath, he could care less.

The adventure is in finding out where it is and, for that, Lara has to find an ancient underwater ruin (something about Alexander's Tomb), where her incredible sleuthmanship allows her to find the key to the mystery, a prized, luminous orb with a pattern that is an encoded map. Next problem is decrypting the code, for which task she uploads a partial picture of it to her computer expert back at the Croft mansion.

But, she's been followed. Just as she's about to complete her picture digitizing, a team of assassins appears, guns blazing, causing the underwater tomb to collapse and making off with Lara's orb. She must recapture it. She does; she loses it again; she regains it again... well, you know how this goes.

Terry Sheridan is pretty much always at her side or in some spot to provide rescue should she need it. Between them, the pair have enough martial arts skill to emerge from any challenge or threat of firepower, including a soaring escape off a Hong Kong skyscraper under construction to softly land on a seagoing ship 3 miles away. But if that's not a test of credibility, Lara's escape from a shark's belly by first attracting it with a self-inflicted cut and then punching it out on the snout is a complete misunderstanding of or a cynical disregard for natural mechanisms. We're trading, here, on mythical imagination, so there's no time for the amenity of reality.

The romantic/sexual interplay between these two healthy specimen of opposite gender is kept alive by hints and promises, always at arms length so as not to gross-out the prepubescent sub teenage attendees. Director Jan de Bont ("Speed") and writer Steven E. de Souza ("Judge Dredd", "Hudson Hawk") apparently felt they have a handle on where their boxoffice coin will be coming from and kept story elements comic book simple.

For the more mature audience (13-73), there's Jolie herself to satisfy glandular interests. Besides her sure-fire sexy attractiveness, her repeated expressions of whimsy and enjoyment in the escapade are sparkles emerging from pure star quality. She's a treat. The girl is on her game. Effecting a British accent, her energy holds the screen, while her acrobatic skill provides an adequate level of credibility for the action. Though, for sure, those big guns she carries have to be lightweight surrogates.

As is the film itself, which could benefit by some story improvement at the hands of the James Bond team.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider
The orb: now she got it now she don't

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