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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published, under a different and less honest title, on September 11th 2003:

  As you may have noticed, there have been an inordinately large number of sequels, three-quels, prequels and sundry franchise entries bursting onto the world’s cinema screens over the course of the last four months: X2, Matrix Reloaded, Legally Blonde 2, Dumb and Dumberer, American Wedding, Terminator 3, Freddy Vs Jason, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and many more. It isn’t even as if the trend shows any sign of winding up – still to come this year we have the final instalments of three popular trilogies.

Traditionally sequels have tended to be inferior cash-ins on the original movie, but of late there has been a welcome trend for them to improve upon or at least come close to equalling their progenitors in quality. And this continues, sort of, with Jan de Bont’s latest offering, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. (This may be due to the fact that, with one of the summer’s best movies being based on a theme park ride, the stigma of being a video game adaptation is mostly dispelled.)

Anyway, this kicks off when a low-budget earthquake in the Med uncovers the hidden treasure-trove of Alexander the Great. Quickly on the scene to ransack this priceless historical discovery is our heroine/one woman argument for the violent overthrow of the aristocracy, Lara Croft (amply embodied, as before, by Angelina ‘Howling Mad’ Jolie). Crofty quickly grabs the most valuable-looking object on show, a big orange marble, but is rapidly relieved of it by some dodgy Oriental coves. It transpires that the big orange marble is a map showing the location of Pandora’s Box, which contains the most lethal virus in the world, and keen to get his sweaty hands on it is bio weapons tycoon Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), for whom said Oriental fellows work. Obviously too busy with the Hutton inquiry to do anything about this themselves, the bright boys at MI6 recruit Crofty to stop Reiss. And, pausing only to spring old boyfriend Terry (Gerard Butler) from prison to help her, Crofty bounces into action…

The first Tomb Raider movie certainly had its knockers, but I thought most of these critics were basically justified: it was terrible, poorly paced, numbly written, with thin characterisation and no attempt to make the Lara Croft character appeal to a wider audience. This is better: better directed, better written, better acted and with better cinematography.

However, the qualifier ‘Not that that’s saying much’ should be lavishly applied to all the above judgements, because whoever was responsible for the creative decisions on this movie has made a skip load of horrible mistakes. The main one is that, for a film with the main character’s name in the title, it gives us no reason whatsoever to care about her. Jolie admittedly looks very eye-catching in her bikini/rubber suit/jodhpurs, but this is very nearly it as far as her characterisation goes, and what broad personality traits the script gives her are nearly all negative. Probably intended to be a feisty and independent woman, Lara comes across as a smug and snotty cow: humourless, arrogant, and mercenary most of the time… but conveniently compassionate, idealistic and heroic when the script demands it. She’s a cartoon character, whom Jolie fails to imbue with any charm or wit, and the result is a visually striking but otherwise completely empty dead zone at the heart of the film. (And, incidentally, she’s about as convincingly British as a yodelling sumo wrestler crossing the Atacama desert on a yak: Hollywood’s idea of representing how a posh English person talks is to make them say ‘Bugger’ and ‘Piss orf’ a lot.)

Jolie’s non-acting is particularly disappointing as, for most of the movie, both Hinds and Butler are significantly better than the script deserves. Gerard Butler’s character is rather more likeable than Crofty: a major problem, given the way the story plays out. But no matter how well acted her arch-nemesis or bosom companion are, Crofty herself is such a cypher it’s hard to care either way. Butler’s been giving quality supporting turns in trashy movies for years now, and hopefully his landing the extremely plum title role in the forthcoming movie version of the musical Phantom of the Opera will see him break through into proper stardom. Red Dwarf‘s Chris Barrie reprises his role as Crofty’s butler agreeably enough, but neither he nor the geeky chap (Noah Taylor) get much to do this time round.

This isn’t really an actor’s movie, though: it’s more a string of stunts and action set pieces and scenes that just propel the plot along rather than worry about things like character, motivation, or sense. I suspect you could sit down with a clipboard and go through the film, writing down where each scene originally appeared: the first act alone references Jaws, Never Say Never Again, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bond and the Indiana Jones movies are the main donors throughout, although one of the film’s best moments is nicked from the second Mission: Impossible flick, and there’s a long sequence near the end which looks like a Lord of the Rings out-take. It looks quite polished, and careful casting means there’s an attractive pair at the heart of the action. But for all his efforts to inject jugs of energy and pace into the film, de Bont can’t quite raise this film above the pedestrian. He’s not helped by the fact that Jolie rarely looks anything other than uncomfortable in her action sequences, and still can’t throw a decent-looking punch to save her life. The lack of any depth meant that throughout the chases, stunts, etc, I was constantly thinking ‘For God’s sake stop and have a conversation‘ – and the terrible, clunking dialogue and Jolie’s grisly acting meant that whenever they did, I found myself thinking ‘For God’s sake let’s have another overblown stunt‘.

What really finishes Cradle of Life off is a fatal lack of clarity about who it’s aimed at. There’s a clear and peculiar cleavage between superficial and cartoony elements like those usually found in children’s films, and other things (in particular, some graphic and bloody violence) which seem meant for an adult audience. Addle-brained thirteen-year-olds will probably love it, but everyone else should think twice before watching.

Bad. Not quite as bad as the first one. But still bad.

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One of the advantages of trekking down to the local shop every couple of days is the opportunity it gives me to check out the front pages of the papers. It’s not something I’m proud of, it’s not something especially edifying or cheering, but every now and then I see something so odd or downright cracked that it justifies all the nonsense about Kate’s latest man trouble or William and Jordan’s wedding plans (well, you know what I mean).
 
Thoughts along ‘Maybe there is a God after all’ lines were my reward today after discovering that the winner of The Sun’s Page Three Idol is an, er, taut-looking 18-year old young lady who goes by the charming monicker of Lacey Banghard. Obviously, I would have loved to share an image of – ah – Miss Banghard with you, so we could all admire her winning smile and clear complexion, but I do have moral standards to maintain (and The Sun aren’t allowing any reproductions of their shots of her). So I have had to come up with an alternative photo that gives roughly the same impression:   
 

Oh, go ahead and Google her. I won't think any the less of you.

But I mean, good grief, Lacey Banghard? And before you leap to the cynical conclusion, no, it really is her actual name. I can’t help but wonder, though – not necessarily whether her career is being overseen by the Almighty (he’s probably too busy blowing up the TV sets of people watching The Omen, anyway) – but whether there wasn’t some degree of determinism involved.

I’m not saying Miss B swung this award solely on the basis of having a weirdly apposite name – there are a couple of other rather more fundamental attributes involved, glandular rather than nominative – but if you’re making your way in the world as a comely young woman with, er, great things ahead of her, and a name like Banghard, surely you’re going to find yourself drifting towards certain career paths more than others?

I think realistically you’re limited to glamour modelling, being a Bond girl, or appearing as a character in one of Talbot Rothwell’s Carry On scripts. With the Bond franchise being on suspension until the other day (and having an odd attitude towards naming the girls at present), and Talbot Rothwell having been dead for the last thirty years, I think Lacey’s options were necessarily limited. Nice to see her making the best of a tricky situation.

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