One of the least-loved box-office hits this side of Armageddon, 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider felt like a bad B-movie inexplicably blessed with an A-list star and a summer blockbuster's bloated budget. It's as if the filmmakers set out to make Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but ended up with a gender-switched King Solomon's Mines instead. The role of the titular adventurer was more a straitjacket than a showcase for Angelina Jolie, who's a perfect physical match for the video-game icon, but has so far conveyed little beyond grim determination, which must be as joyless to play as it is to watch. For the Tomb Raider sequel Cradle Of Life, the producers replaced Con Air's Simon West, the anonymous hack who directed the original, with veteran cinematographer and director Jan de Bont (Speed), a far more skilled hack. Bigger and better than its predecessor but still a generic pastiche of Indiana Jones and James Bond, Cradle Of Life jets Jolie to exotic locations, where she rides horses, punches sharks, and engages in various acts of heroism while trying to get to Pandora's Box before it falls into the hands of an evil scientist. Jolie occasionally allows her famous lips to curl up into something of a half-smile, and even shows near-subliminal flashes of humor, but she still seems to derive little joy from her character's adventures. The Angelina Jolie on display here is like a pod-person version of the actress who electrified Girl, Interrupted: She looks the same, but her animating life force is missing. Still, de Bont knows how to film a spectacular action sequence, and Cradle Of Life offers plenty of eye candy, if little else. Ultimately, the film is clearly superior to its predecessor, but that's mostly because the first Tomb Raider left so much room for improvement.

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