If you live by the sword of special effects, you may also die by that same sword, even if it's strapped to the shapely legs of Angelina Jolie. Problem is, the special effects of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" just aren't as special as those in, say, The Mummy or The Mummy Returns. Not so special they compel us to overlook plot, continuity or character development as essential parts of holding our interest for an hour and a half. Special effects - especially with the added fillip of an interactive joystick - work darned well for video games, the wellspring and inspiration for Lady Croft. And no one in his or her right mind can say this enhanced version of Jolie is anything but eye-grabbing.
But even a Brockoviched Oscar winner like Jolie has limits when stuck with a two-dimensional character in a one-dimensional plot. Our first big "uh-oh" comes when her opening duel with a mechanical monster turns out to be just exercise. The rest come more slowly, after even the most simple trips to town play out like careening, screeching thrill rides. As Croft's most simple tasks represent lethal danger, her existence leans quickly more toward that of Inspector Clouseau than toward that of Indiana Jones.
Of course, she's soon embroiled in a plot that has at stake nothing less than the world's survival and power over time itself. Seems there's a group of middle-aged white guys who call themselves the Illuminati. They've figured out three pieces of a puzzle which, if manipulated properly, can win the world's survival, etc. etc.
For no apparent reason, Lady Croft uncovers one of those three pieces hidden in her own house. The ghost of her late father, renowned archaelogist Lord Croft, schedules her upcoming week (we're chasing planetary alignment, here, folks) to outwit the Illuminati, re-align the pieces of the puzzle and thus preserve the world's survival, etc. etc. In a neat bit of casting that jerks us viewers back toward something plausible, Jolie's natural father, Jon Voight, plays her ghostly dad. It's a small part.
A quick cut later and Jolie's off to Cambodia, where she confronts her biggest nemesis, an Illuminati go-fer named Manfred (Iain Glen, looking smug). He's accompanied by a somewhat more likeable consulatant named Alex Marrs (Daniel Craig) who has apparently had a few pregnant moments with Lady Croft in the past.
They tussle in Cambodia, then head for Siberia (this picture's too big for just two continents!), where we have some more mayhem, too-fast travel and mucho gunfire. Circumstances at the end are left open to a sequel, just in case.
Here's one word of advice to would-be sequel-makers: Don't. At least, not until we find out more about what makes Lara tick. Or until someone at the top of the special-effects heap can borrow tricks from the folks at Mummy productions.