Boob Raider

There's no reason to care about a boring character like Lara Croft beyond her nipples.

If I can't see a movie based on an amusement park ride, a cereal box character or a hamburger spokesman, sometimes I'll settle for one based on a video game featuring a large-breasted grave robber.

This weekend, faced with a choice of all of the above, I nonetheless went for Lara Croft Boob Raider because of the presence of Angelina Jolie, who, despite receiving an Academy Award for acting, is actually a pretty good actress.

Not wanting to rely on Jolie's thespian skills to sell movie tickets, though, director Jan de Bont (perhaps best known for his work on Speed 2 and Leonard Part 6) has used the magic of movie effects to enhance Jolie's performance. For example, in the opening sequence, Jolie must don a wetsuit to go to an underwater tomb (which I suspect she intends to raid). De Bont, believing that Jolie's nipple acting would not be up to par, inserted some of the most obvious fake nipples into the wetsuit that I, or any connoisseur of prosthetic protuberances, have ever seen. It's as though de Bont didn't believe that the powerful story and moving human drama that is The Cradle of Life could stand on its own without the use of synthetic mammary enhancement technology.

Or maybe, misunderstanding the concept of metaphor, he thought that by putting little bumps on her, he could make Lara Croft into a three-dimensional character. Sadly, that's not how things work. Nor, indeed, can a movie's interest be sustained solely on the basis of costume changes, no matter how snug the bodice of any individual outfit might be. And movie heroes don't automatically get our sympathy merely by having the most camera time. This is de Bont's biggest mistake: He assumes that the audience will care about what happens to his tremendously bland grave-robbing heroine just because she's the protagonist of the movie.

In films, there are generally two ways to get audiences to root for the hero. The first is to give the hero a noble goal. This is how the James Bond films work, for example. Bond himself is pretty much a complete asshole, but you have to root for him because if he fails, then some overweight Belgian will control all the world's gold, and that can't be good for your portfolio.

The second method is to make the protagonist likable. In movies where the hero (or anti-hero) is a criminal, like in Cool Hand Luke or the Steve McQueen Getaway, we root for the him because he's a complex and interesting character we can relate to, even if he does some stuff that you're not supposed to do, unless you're the head of a large corporation or medium-sized government.

Video games, on the other hand, have another method for making you root for the protagonist: You are the protagonist. This makes such niceties as careful plotting and strong characterization unnecessary. Humans, like most primates, always root for themselves.

In adapting a video game to the big screen, though, you can't rely on this method, and you have to throw a little work into what Hollywood insiders call "the script." Of course, that could divert money from the effects budget, but sometimes that's the price you have to pay.

In Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Nipples of Life, the producers obviously wanted to reign in the total expenditure, so they scrimped a bit in the writing department. Thus, the movie starts with Lara Croft saying little and doing nothing but stealing the ancient treasures of someone else's culture, which are things that don't really make her all that appealing, at least not without a tight-fitting wet suit and some kind of prosthetic nipple work.

Not wanting to rely solely on Jolie's body to keep the film moving, de Bont eventually works in a plot: Croft gets hired by the British intelligence agency MI-6 to stop a bad (and perhaps part-Belgian) man from unleashing a deadly virus. By the time this happens, though, Croft is already established as an incredibly boring human being who gets by on looks and money. That might get you elected president, but it doesn't really make you a compelling heroine.

To spice things up, there's a chemistry-free romance between Croft and a turncoat agent who she must work with because he is, of course, the only person on Earth who can help her find the villain. When this fails to be interesting, the scene switches to Africa, which is perhaps supposed to keep our interest because it's a pretty continent full of pretty people. In fact, the incredibly pretty Djimon Hounsou makes a belated appearance at this point in the film, which at least gives you something to look at besides Angelina Jolie's bizarrely inflated breasts and superhuman bone structure.

It's all too little, too late, though, and this latest Lara adventure pretty much left me flat. I imagine that this is the movie that space robots from another world would make if 10,000 years from now, they came to our desiccated planet and found, in the hidden tombs of Hollywood, the Standard Formula for Action Films. All the elements are in place, but there's no spirit to animate it, and no compelling human reason to sit through it.

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