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Girls Kick Ass 

*Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (PG-13)
Paramount Pictures

We're supposed to hate this movie. By nearly all critical accounts, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is dull and clich-ridden. The plot is ridiculously stupid. Even the special effects add nothing to the movie. And it's only a "movie" in the most limited, commercial sense of the word. More accurately, it's a lame entertainment product chasing its tail -- lovers of the hugely successful video game automatically go to the movie, and lovers of the movie go out and buy the video game, and the executive team at Paramount Pictures gets a nice big bonus. Just the kind of summer blockbuster straw man we're supposed to knock down.

On most days, I probably would. But I had loads of fun watching this picture. Shouldn't I feel guilty?

I probably should, but I don't. If you're in the right mood for it, Tomb Raider is a perfectly good diversion. It's dumb fun, but it's fun. Plus, it provides the movies with something that's been missing since Sigourney Weaver slew her last alien: a kick-ass heroine.

Lara Croft is a young, single heiress who's regularly called upon to save the universe. She spends her days training for battle in her massive castle, fighting off dummy cyborgs and practicing insanely dangerous acrobatic stunts. Though the movie provides flashbacks with Croft's father (played by Jolie's dad, Jon Voight), we don't really know where she came from or why she's so militaristic. What we do know is that she kicks ass, and that's all that matters.

In this movie, Lara is supposed to destroy this triangle thingy that gives its possessor the power to travel through time and therefore, the movie suggests, control the world. Evil people want to control the world, of course, so the burden is upon Lara to save the day.

To be sure, Lara Croft is a heroine that could only have been created by men. She's endowed like Barbie and somehow has a wardrobe filled with skintight tank tops and an endless arsenal of weaponry. The British programming brothers Adrian and Jeremy Heath-Smith who invented the video game say they had originally planned to create another testosterone freak hero, but everything they drew ended up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. So, they simply changed Arnold into a lady, and Lara Croft was born.

Angelina Jolie has been make to look every bit the part of Lara -- check her against the video game cover and you'll see a remarkable resemblance. You'll also see that in the video game, Croft's oversized breasts are the centerpiece to the character. Audiences and critics familiar with the game were expecting (hoping?) that the movie version of Croft would accentuate Jolie's breasts as well, but they've been disappointed. Yes, they're there and they're noticeable (particularly in Paramount's ad campaign), but director Simon West (Con Air) doesn't let his camera linger on them. I point this out because I think it's laudable. We know Croft is sexy, but West doesn't keep her there. He lets her walk around, flex her muscles and generate her own sort of cool. Kick ass cool. And if you're in the right frame of mind, it'll probably seem cool to you, too.

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