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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (review)

No High Score

(Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over: Worst of 2003)

The term “video games” to me means: It’s about 1979, and for Christmas we got one of those thingies that plugs into the TV and you can play Pong and Hockey and Tennis and they’re all the same game but who cares, how cool is this?! Or it’s about 1983, and I’m at the skating rink, standing at the Ms Pac-Man machine in my white-booted, purple-glitter-shoelaced skates, racking up a high score while the ice in my soda, sitting on top of the machine, melts and some Donna Summer song blares over the waka-waka-wakas. Or it’s around 1987, and I have to fight with my brothers for access to the Nintendo because when I close my eyes to sleep at night I see spinning coins and psychedelic mushrooms and that horrendously catchy Super Mario Brothers music is repeating endlessly in my head and I simply must crack that level with all the pipes and ducts. Or it’s about 1993, and I’ve got the door of my office closed so I can get my ass kicked by the Mongols in peace cuz I’m playing Civilization instead of working. Or it’s last week and it’s 4am and I’m wired on caffeine and I’m bulldozing ugly polluted tracts of Dense Industrial trying to force some beautiful Sim Mars Testing Facilities to just develop already in my otherwise magnificent Sim City.

It makes a geek sorta wanna cry to see how Hollywood takes something as pure and lovely and necessary as developing repetitive stress injuries and/or losing sleep in order to kill cute cartoonish nasty alien Nazi undead Mongol Education Advisors and turns it into something so deadly dull that playing your little sister’s Barbie Goes Shopping! CD-ROM would be better at getting your adrenaline pumping. Has there ever been a decent video-game flick? Yeah, WarGames, maybe, but that doesn’t really count, and don’t say The Last Starfighter because that doesn’t count either and it’s really bad even if we all still love it and please, who’s named “Lance” anyway? And these things never even make money — the first Tomb Raider is by far the most successful one yet, and it cost about $80 mil and made supposedly around $130ish mil which is barely breaking even when you count the untold tens of mils for promotion and Angelina Jolie’s tattoo expense account and such. So what’s the motivation for making them? What’s the cheat code that lets us make these movies even approach the fun of actually, you know, playing a game?

In a pathetic, won’t-you-please-like-me kinda way, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Franchise has transmogrified from the actively sucky, loud, overblown, bombastic original into perhaps the most perfunctory big-budgeted action flick ever. With breasts. It’s a perfunctory action flick with breasts. With breasts in a bra with the most astounding support mechanism I’ve ever seen. They simply don’t move at all, and that’s just not natural. Big budget, big breasts, and everything’s taped down and strangled into immobility and that’s simply no fun. I mean, there’s tons of “action” onscreen, with cars and guns and helicopters and Lara Croft Special Edition Jeeps and flying shattered glass, but there might as well not be for all the good any of it does.

I’m not sure how one takes cool stuff like ancient myths and you call this archeology? and motorcycling along the Great Wall of China and using bubblegum like MacGyver and turns it all into something so supremely boring, but Jan de Bont (The Haunting, Twister) managed it. It probably doesn’t help that Angelina Jolie (Gone in 60 Seconds, The Bone Collector) as — *snort* — Lady Croft is clearly not around for half her character’s stunts and when she is onscreen looks like she’s pretty mad at herself for agreeing to play a boob-a-licious conglom of pixels in the first place. It probably doesn’t help that Gerard Butler (Reign of Fire, Harrison’s Flowers), who might possibly be yummy if he let his hair grow out of that unflattering buzzcut, doesn’t seem to know what to do with the fact that his soldier-turned-mercenary Terry Sheridan is supposed to be attracted to Croft, with the result that this most often manifests itself as a desire to punch her. Though I can certainly sympathize, she’s so smug and all-knowing and superior and not bound by the laws of physics the rest of us must contend with.

Mostly, though, it’s probably because the movie misunderstands why it doesn’t make any sense. It may be just fine for a video game to culminate in a secret level where down is up and mysterious and previously unhinted-at creatures appear and must be battled, but in movies this is cheating, which is nowhere near as acceptable and encouraged as it is when a joystick is involved. The rules are different for video games and movies, but this script plays like it was written by some guy who writes hint books for gamers: “Remember to call MI6 before you enter the supersecret lab in the department store in Hong Kong or you’ll game-over for sure.” Which is really stupid because if this were a game, you definitely would game-over. There’s no way that you could know, whether you were playing Lara and Terry, where you were going to end up after the big gun battle in the lab, so how could you call ahead to MI6 and tell them what to leave and where in order to facilitate your escape until after you’d gotten yourself killed and were now armed with only-in-a-video-game foresight?

I hope you remembered to save the game before entering the lab, because if you haven’t, you’ll have to go all the way back to the enemy lair in China.

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over isn’t based on a video game, it takes place inside a video game. I think this may be Robert Rodriguez’s payback for how Tron warped all our brains as kids, because this is an absolutely insane movie: breathlessly illogical, daringly gaudy, audaciously awful. It’s like a movie made by a crazy person who’s gone off his meds and so fully believes that purple sounds like butterflies and bananas share with him the secrets of the universe. It’s like an Ed Wood movie, so earnest and so desperately sure of itself in all its nutty, clueless glory, so obviously flown in from another planet at great expense. Imagine Wood had made The Matrix, with some hilariously tacked-on emotionalism and increasingly incomprehensible plotting and tons of crap flying out at you in red- and- blue 3-D, and you’ve got it.

It’s kinda enough to give you a headache if the cardboard glasses weren’t already doing the job, and kinda a must-see if only to experience how totally on its own plane of existence it is.

Mini spies Juni and Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) this time out head into virtual reality to stop a maniacal video-game designer from taking over the world. How this taking over of the world is going to be achieved is never really clear, but he’s gonna take over the world so he must be stopped, right? But here’s where it gets special: The maniacal video game designer is played by Sylvester Stallone (Driven, Cop Land), with all the whooped-up campy grandeur he can muster, which isn’t a lot but that’s what makes it so jaw-droppingly alarming.

Juni stomps around inside the game in a clunky VR suit searching for Carmen, who needs rescuing for some reason or other, with the help of a bunch of beta-testers already in the game. They have to solve puzzles and fight each other and move on to higher levels, and not only is it no fun to be watching someone else play a game, the game itself hardly looks like much fun for the players. Plus there’s no story at all to the game itself — it’s just a random collection of unrelated puzzles, which is still more than can be said for the movie itself.

But I’m making it sound too logical, too rational, too much like with a few tweaks, it all might come together and work, and I don’t want to leave you with that impression. Rodriguez just pulls stuff out of his subconscious, all these great ideas he’s had forever and here’s the one film he can finally put all of them into — the giant robots invading the empty Sunday-morning streets of downtown Austin and Grandpa walking on the moon and Alan Cumming instructing little kids on how to use 3-D glasses and pseudo-mystic video-game lore and — dear god — Sylvester Stallone as a hippie. And he put them all into a CGI blender and made them all candy-colored and then made everything blurrily red-and-blue 3-D-ish.

I mean, sure, there’s certainly none of that dull tiredness that typically dooms threequels, but if this is the only alternative in the realm of video-game movies, give me Tetris any day.

On second thought, better not give Hollywood any ideas, or soon we’ll be under attack from Tetris: The Movie: The Curse of the Search for the Tomb of the Sacred Ancient 2X2 Piece, starring Kevin Spacey as that evil sort of squashed S-shaped block that’s impossible to fit anywhere, and Orlando Bloom as the heroic and awesome 4-in-a-row straight piece that lets you, if you set it up right, get all those extra bonus points.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality
official site | IMDB

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG for action sequences and peril
official site | IMDB

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