. "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"

Conjuring up a movie version of a video game is not unlike doing it from a comic strip. It's a challenge of art direction. In what was probably the most story-boarded film of the year, the artists who created the settings and choreography, as well as the costumes and gadgetry, met the challenge and more. It's a triumph of creativity.

As for the dynamic and buff Angelina Jolie in the title part, well, as a male I could easily watch her strutting and flipping herself around for 105 minutes even without a plot or a believable character. What there are of these elements are drawn from the video game that spawned her. She is a binary creation, a pixel-formulated personna, here presented in trim, sexy flesh and white hot blood. Can't think of an actress more attuned to the assignment, unless there's someone out there who really can do all that acrobatic stuff, has instantaneous reaction time and perfect coordination without movie magic. But, it is a movie so it doesn't matter.

Frankly, it seems more like a sequel of the "Batman" series than anything else. She lives in a castle (with 800 rooms), has a super garage full of vehicular toys, weapons and hi-tech gadgetry to rival James Bond, and a backstory designed to bring out the whiny, wistful, pineful humanity in her. She misses her Dad, Lord Croft (Jon Voight), who was previously consigned to some other dimension. Her utmost desire is to somehow link up with him again as though archaeologists of the video game variety have special avenues by which to approach lost dimensions, lost relatives.

Okay, but a film about Lara Croft might be better off with a love interest in this dimension. Putting such an unimaginable thought aside for an inevitable sequel, Croft pursues her McGuffin, a clock secretly hidden by her father before his disappearance that turns out to a key to a triangular object that controls time and light when the planets are perfectly aligned, which they are due to be very soon.

Cleverly, she allows the emissary of the Illuminati, a secret society after the very same item, to gain access to the parts needed to control the powers that can be unleashed. This emmisary, Manfred Powell (Iain Glenn) masterfully shoots her castle apart, setting off the chase and animatronic devices to sustain the storyline and provide plenty of clever choreography and digital effects. Like said, a masterpiece of action creativity.

Lara is more than just a heroine. She's an absolute seer, knowing what goes where in the maze of particles from the ancient past. No one else seems to have a clue, so you have to wonder if she's the only one who read the "script". Well, no matter, go with it and you'll have fun.

You might also think there would be special chemistry in her scene with her real-life father, Jon Voight, but all you see are two actors immersed in their roles. Perhaps they'll amuse the filmgoing world sometime in a movie allowing them some extended, believably emotional interaction.

Unexpectedly in this genre environment, Jolie exhibits more than just her pulchritude and trim limbs. Also detected is an actress who has reached a level of maturity and firmness in her acting not seen before. Perhaps it's because she plays a "Lady" with a serious side and who in her dangerous powers and exploits must be taken seriously. But she's had her serious roles before and seems a lot more hesitant ("The Bone Collector", notably). She also affects a British accent that merges well amidst the rest of the mostly British cast.

Estimated cost: $80,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $130,000,000.

Rated K, for Kinetic.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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