Remember this: A mainstream B-movie with an 80-million-dollar budget is STILL a B-movie. Schlock is schlock regardless of pedigree. In the early days, low-budget filmmakers chipped away at the market by producing inexpensive pictures that exploited subject matter major Hollywood studios wouldn't dirty their hands with. Today, the little folks are at the same game, but the big fellas aren't afraid to slum it for boffo box office anymore. That's why it's become commonplace for a sexploitation movie like American Pie or a road flick like The Fast and the Furious to open at every multiplex on the planet. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001, 100 minutes) is a prime example of this big-budget B-picture phenom. Five years ago, when the video vixen first began hyperextending the joysticks of teenage boys everywhere, it was such an unapologetic knockoff of a certain other globetrotting archaeologist that it was a given that folks in Tinseltown would take notice. Studio lawyers at the very least. But instead of jiggling and grunting her way into court our chesty hiney-kicker got herself a contract.
The movie: Nutzoid seductress and brother-smooching Oscar winner Angelina Jolie cops an alleged English accent as Lady Lara Croft who we find raiding a tomb guarded by an overgrown R2-D2 with impaired social skills. It's here that director Simon West unleashes a fury of two-fisted gunplay, CGI wizardry and repeated closeups of Lara's, um, holsters amid a hail of hipster techno beats. Come to think of it, that describes the whole dang flick. One night, Lara slinks out of bed after dreaming about her long lost pappa to follow a faint ticking sound that gets louder as she wanders closer. When confronted by a solid wall, our dainty heroine bashes it down and discovers a secret room with a readily-accessible light switch and a crate containing an antique Timex. Of course, this discovery leads her on a quest to save the world. During the completion of which she disposes of Illuminati commandos who interrupt her relaxation hour of bungie ballet. Later, she Indianas it to some ruins in the jungle and surfs a giant phallus to beat Level Two where she may then save her game. The biggest twist in her thong is this mean-nasty fella called Powell (Iain Glen) who works for a secret society obsessed with planetary alignments and raining on Lara's parade. But she's too busy strutting, smirking and cocking her left eyebrow to really pay him much mind. What really makes those bee-stung lips quiver is when Pappa Croft (played by Angie's real-life daddy Jon Voight) creeps into her memory to yammer on about horticulture and the nature of time itself. Is she SURE she wants this mustachioed toad back?
CineSchlockers interested in perusing more of Ms. Jolie's impressive body of work should check her out in Gia as a troubled supermodel. An R-rated DVD is readily available, but purists should really snag the Unrated VHS version that fully fleshes out the lesbian themes. No word if any of THAT footage contributed to her Golden Globe win. Speaking of golden globes, those sultans of sleaze at Seduction Cinema are trumpeting the pending release of Mummy Raider starring rising B-queen and CineSchlocker favorite Misty Mundae. Stay tuned for the skinny on that gem.
Notables: No breasts. 28 corpses. Two-fisted gun shooting. Gratuitous shower scene. 12 costume changes. Amateur astronomy. Swinging. Gratuitous dream sequences. Morphing. Motorcycle acrobatics. Back walking. Knife throwing. Multiple explosions. Kung fu fighting. Freestyle dog sledding. Gratuitous slow mo. One microwave disaster. Chanting Buddhists.
Quotables: Stodgy Illuminati bigwig telegraphs a plot point, "We have only a single opportunity to retrieve the two halves of the triangle. And if we fail, we must wait another 5,000 years." Lara on her bullet-riddled living room, "I woke up this morning and just HATED everything!" And being a smart-aleck, "Well, we can do it my way, or we can all come back for the next alignment and you're welcome to try and kill me then -- in, oh, say another 5,000 years." Ubiquitous computer geek (Noah Taylor) asks rhetorically, "Time to save the universe again, is it?"
Time codes: First crotch shot (1:38). Freeze-frame pervert's delight (7:16). Hollywood cliche alert: Lara accidentally bids in a multi-million dollar auction (18:30). Bungie ballet gives way to mondo-gunplay (26:38). An ode to the REAL tomb raider: Doctah Joan! Doctah Joan! (55:32). A warm -- and horridly cheesy -- father/daughter moment (1:24:00). Follow the bouncing boobs to freedom (1:29:58).
Audio/Video: The widescreen (2.35:1) is generally free of artifacts, but a minute amount of digital shimmering is occasionally evident. Gun battles and explosions are extra special in Dolby Digital 5.1 while maintaining clear dialogue. There's also a 2.0 track.
Extras: Audio commentary by director Simon West has a professional, informative feel, while not being so "proper" as to gloss over the kid-friendly shower scene. Slickly-produced featurette has, among the typical fare, a scoop on the intricacies of Lara's sinfully-snug wardrobe (25 mins). Four deleted scenes that include a laughable boomerang card trick and a tumbling geriatric head (7 mins). Several video vignettes: "Crafting Lara Croft" follows Ms. Jolie's physical and weapons training (7 mins); "Stunts" provides additional footage of her twirling around on big ol' rubber bands (10 mins) and "Are You Game?" documents the extent of the video game fandemonium (8 mins). Eight "How'd they do that" clips on visual effects, including Powell's previously unseen demise (20 mins). Behold the shattering terror of "Evil Bono" in U2's widescreen "Elevation" music video. Alternative main title sequence. Various DVD-ROM doodads. At least one easily discovered Easter Egg visits with Angie and Pappa Voight (2 mins). Motion-video menus with audio.
Final thought: Angelina is all sex and swagger in this big-screen video game -- making it tough to imagine anyone else stepping into Croft's skimpy hot pants. But let's hope the sequel has a STORY as remotely stimulating as its leading lady. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.