-By Doris Toumarkine

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Angelina Jolie, who copped an Oscar for her performance in Girl, Interrupted, has tremendous acting talent, but as the heiress/adventuress/artifact collector in the flashy, FX-laden action adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, she is able to shelve her thespian gifts. Yes, the role of Lara calls for considerable physical derring-do, including workouts with a pugilistic, reptile-like robot that Sharper Image might one day sell and real fights--some on bungee ropes--with real adversaries. But Jolie, not quite phoning in her role, lets Lara be the sum of her physical parts, considerable charisma and athletic skills.

In true exploitation tradition, Jolie wears holsters where garters would be and shows off a figure to die for and a pout that breaks the mold. The film is long on action, but very short on dialogue. When Jolie's aristocratic Brit heroine Lara is called on to speak, her English accent is dead-on. (Did Bridget Jones' Renee Zellweger and Jolie use the same coach?)

Tomb Raider, like its heroine, looks great. The settings are breathtaking. And large. They include Lara's voluminous mansion, with ceilings so high they allow for bungee jumping. And there are the mammoth catacombs that Lara and her adversaries comb. These rivals include the silky Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), a cunning villain who is also the enemy of Lara's late father Lord Croft (Jon Voight). Also in Lara's path is the mercenary Alex West (Daniel Craig), who, in the race to find the story's 'McGuffins,' works for the wrong side because someone beats Lara's price.

Tomb Raider's plotline is really a clothesline upon which to hang the de rigueur fights, confrontations, chases, etc. Apparently, there are missing pieces to a triangle that, if whole, allows the owner to control time and space and the future of the world. Lara and Powell, who is in league with the evil and elitist Illuminati group, battle for control of this triangle.

Tension is as thin as the plotline. Unfortunately, nothing scares Lara, so nothing scares us, the audience. Everything's on the very slick surface, like suntan lotion on shiny, sun-dulled bathers.

Tomb Raider may have an impoverished plot, but it is rich in design. The filmmakers take advantage of exotic exteriors such as a vast Icelandic glacier and Cambodia's legendary Angkor Wat area. Everything in the film is larger than life, as it should be since Tomb Raider is a translation from the virtual world of interactive games.

The film does offer one small delight for the over-20 crowd. It's the droll performance of Noah Taylor, who plays Lara's nerdy but savvy tech-support guy. There's promise there and we vote for him to carry the sequel or spin-off.

--Doris Toumarkine

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