Cannon with deadly aim
Angelina Jolie returns as Lara Croft in this second, bigger, slicker film, which opens its Indian run today. ANAND PARTHASARATHY discusses Jolie's career and her role as the U.N. ambassador.
SHE MAKES her entrance in her latest film riding a ski jet across the Aegean Sea, then changes into a silver grey wet suit before diving in to look for hidden treasure. In less than two hours, she jumps off the 84th floor of a Hong Kong high rise, glides across the city and lands on the deck of a ship; then skydives from a plane to land on and take control of a jeep rolling across the African landscape. And somewhere along the way, she also rides a horse side saddle.
Scenes from "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life." This big screen action adventure is based on the video game, `Tomb Raider'.
An antiquities hunter for hire, a titled British lady and a sort of female Indiana Jones with a hint of James Bond, Lara Croft is a character born of the age we live in, the heroine of a point-and-shoot computer video game called `Tomb Raider', which was turned into a big screen action adventure two years ago. It featured a 26-year old actress whose 10-year repertoire has swung between a dramatic Oscar-earning performance and a procession of forgettable time passers.
This week, Angelina Jolie returns to reprise her role in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life", a second, bigger, slicker and marginally better-told instalment of what could end up as yet another open-ended cinematic pop serial. The film opens its Indian run today in English and multiple Indian language versions.
This time Lady Croft's quest is the Pandora's Box, the legendary root of all evil located at a place called the Cradle of Life. She is in a race to reach the relic ahead of assorted henchmen of sinister bio-scientist Dr Jonathan Reiss (Irish actor Ciaran Hinds) who would unleash its deadly contents.
As sidekick, she recruits former boyfriend-cum-secret agent and current jailbird Terry Sheridan (Scottish newcomer Gerard Butler) and the twosome set out on a journey that ends up as the customary scenic tour of the world. The stops this time include Greece, Shanghai, Hong Kong and large stretches of the African Savanna. For the last location she is joined by former classmate Kosa (West African actor Djimon Hounsou of "Gladiator" and "Amistad" fame), now looking for his roots among the Masai tribes and ready to contribute his local knowledge.
It's all played out at a comic book cardboard cut-out level except that, with Dutch-born director Jan de Bont in control ("Speed" 1 and 2; "Twister"), the action is eye-filling even if so much of it is enhanced by computers.
Regular fans of the jockey action yarn might find Jolie's form-fitting spandex costume vaguely familiar, Yes, we have seen a similarly attired, self-assured female star in control of the proceedings not so long ago the redoubtable Mrs. Emma Peel played by Uma Thurman in the 1998 big screen version of "The Avengers".
More recently we had three other young ladies delivering titillating karate kicks in the name of female empowerment, in the second "Charlie's Angels" film.
On one level at least, Lara Croft is no less spurious Jolie's droopy eyes and what has been colourfully described as her `bee stung lips' only underline the bogus premise.
But it was not always so: The daughter of veteran actor Jon Voight has passed out of New York University with a film degree and trained at the Lee Strasbourg Theatre Institute.
While her filmography includes some forgettable stuff like that extended car chase called "Gone in Sixty Seconds" with Nicolas Cage and the steamy melodrama "Original Sin" opposite Antonio Banderas, she has also shown that she can virtually carry a film single handed, given the right role. One such product was the downbeat police thriller "The Bone Collector" (1999), where she plays a spunky detective on the trail of a serial killer, with a bed-ridden colleague (Denzel Washington) helping her.
Her career best role came a year later, in "Girl, Interrupted". Her portrayal of a mental home inmate led veteran critic Roger Ebert to write: ``Jolie is emerging as one of the great wild spirits of current movies, a loose cannon who somehow has deadly aim.'' Her aim in this instance was dead accurate: she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Her Lara Croft persona is unlikely to garner critical acclaim like this, but having boosted her salary to double figures she received $12 millions for the second Tomb Raider film it has also assured her a pick of dramatic roles.
In 2004 she will appear as Olympia in Oliver Stone's film "Alexander" where Colin Farrell plays the title role of the great Greek conqueror. This will be followed by "Love and Honour" where Jolie portrays Russian empress Catherine the Great in a story set during the American War of Independence.
``I seem to be getting a lot of things pushed my way that are (based on) strong women,'' she said recently, ``They send me offers to play tough women with guns. I'd like to play strong women who are also feminine.''
It is her essential femininity and humanity that persuaded Angelina Jolie to adopt a two-year old Cambodian boy and to plan to adopt another child from Russia's war torn Chechnya province, which she visited last month (see box).
``Lara is not a stereotype. She has some mystery about her. She is not wrapped up in herself like a lot of heroines,'' says Jolie.
Somehow it seems, the persona of Lara Craft morphs into that of Angelina Jolie, a woman who shares the same self-confidence, but refuses to take herself so seriously as a good actress that it impairs her ability to be a good human being.
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