'Tomb Raider' reboot stalls

By Tom Von Malder | Jun 17, 2018
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Daniel Wu and Alicia Vikander star in "Tomb Raider."

Owls Head — Tomb Raider (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 118 min.). The good news is that Alicia Vikander makes  for a solid Lara Croft in this origin story;. The bad news is the film had me wondering how many times do we need to see Vikander hanging by one arm before it becomes laughable. The worst news is the whole film serves as a prologue to a sequel it sets up at the very end, but it is a sequel that has not yet been announced and probably will never get made. (The film has only grossed $273 million worldwide, with only $57 million of that coming in the U.S.)

The film, shot in South Africa (a plus), is based on the 2013 video game reboot, after eight previous games, with the first coming in 1996. Here, Lara is 21 and does not know her father was an explorer who headed to an uncharted island Yamatai off the coast of Japan to find the tomb of dark sorceress Himiko, the first queen of Japan. The film has some nice beginning humor as it follows Lara in her day job as a bicycle messenger in London and volunteering to be the paint-dripping "fox" in a bicycle race through the busy, crowded streets.  It is the film's first eye-popping action sequence.

With her father (Dominic West as Richard Croft) missing for seven years, Lara is finally ready to sign paperwork that declares him dead and allows her take control of the rather large group of companies he controls. However, at the meeting, she learns her father has left her a key, which leads to his secret lair and to the story of Himiko. So, off Lara goes to Hong Kong, there to hire Le Ren and his boat, as her father did. The Lu Ren (Daniel Wu of TV's "Into the Badlands") she encounters is not the same one, but rather the son of the man her father hired. The elder Lu Ren has been missing for seven years as well.

When they arrive at the storm-surrounded island, they discover Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins of TV's "Justified"), who has been searching the island for Himiko's tomb for seven years, under orders from the mysterious Order of Trinity, which believes the tomb contains a weapon. Vogel runs a slave camp, using fishermen and sailors who have been washed up on the island. While Vogel tells Lara he killed her father, it is no surprise when that fails to be the truth. In fact, the film offers very little surprises.

The best action sequence is when Lara escapes from Vogel's camp and has a harrowing experience with being swept down a river toward a very large waterfall and an encounter with a derelict World War II bomber that is about to fall apart. Wherever possible, Vikander does her own stunts with real props. She very much has the sculpted body of an athlete -- her training started three months before the film's shooting -- which serves the film well, as she does a lot of running. Naturally, once inside the tomb, there are traps to be solved and bad guys to be fought.

The director is Roar Uthaug, who also gave us the well-executed Norwegian disaster movie, "The Wave." His action sequences here range from very good to superb, but he should have been given a stronger script. Bonus features include two good ones: a closer look at the river sequence and how it was accomplished (5:34); and "Evolution of an Icon," giving a history of the video games and more (9:53). There also is a making-of featurette (7:06) and a look at Vikander's physical training for the role (5:34). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

I Can Only Imagine (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 110 min.). Here is a movie, named after a song I have never heard that was a hit for a Christian rock band, MercyMe, that I never heard of. As with most biopics, there are not enough true-life events to make for a really engrossing movie, and the film is packed with a lot of melodrama.

The film is the life story of songwriter Bart Millard, who wrote the lyrics to the title song, the first of 21 chart-topping singles by the band -- an average of one a year of its existence. The film takes us through Bart's childhood with an abusive father, as well as a mother who abandoned him, through to the success of the "I Can Only Imagine" single. Bart is strongly played by first-time film actor J, Michael Finley, who has an exceptional voice. Broadway lovers will know him from "Les Miserables" (2014), "Hair" and "Sweeney Todd." His father, Arthur, is played by Dennis Quaid, whose famous smile does not appear until very late in the film.

Bart (Brody Rose as the younger version) first comes into contact with Christianity during a week-long stay at Camp Glorieta, where he meets lifelong friends Shannon (Madeline Carroll as an adult) -- his eventual wife -- and Kent (Alexander Dominguez as an adult). There, Youth Pastor Rusty (J.R. Cacia) talks about forgiveness. When camp is over, Bart learns his mother has left his father and him. (Note that in actuality, Bart's parents divorced when he was three, and Bart has an older brother, Stephen, who is totally left out of the movie.) Bart's father was good at football, so Bart plays for his high school team, apparently to make his father lay off of him, but an on-field injury leads Bart to the glee club and teacher Mrs. Fincher (Priscilla C. Shirer) casts him as Curly in the school's production of "Oklahoma."

Six months after high school, Bart joins a band that needed a singer and that band became MercyMe, named after the expression "Mercy me" that Bart's grandmother (Cloris Leachman as Memaw) often used. (Fun fact: Leachman starred in "The Last Picture Show" with Quaid's brother, Randy, in 1971.) The band eventually gets managed by Brickell (a good Trace Adkins). The other members of MercyMe are played by Jason Burkey (Mike), Mark Furze (Nathan), Cole Marcus (Robbie) and Randy McDowell (Jim). Also in the film, Nichole DuPort plays singer Amy Grant and Jake B. Miller plays musician Michael W. Smith.

There are three hours of extras, including audio commentary by co-directors / brothers Andy Erwin and Jon Erwin, co-screenwriter Brent McCorkle (Jon Erwin was the other screenwriter), Millard and producer Kevin Downes. There are seven director-introduced deleted scenes (16:33), the best of which is a fun scene when a small fire breaks out on the band's touring bus. There also is an extended version of Pastor Rusty's campfire speech about forgiveness. "Imagine Forgiveness" (12:40) is an excerpt from a series on Millard's website and he talks about some of his childhood trauma over scenes from the film. There also is a look at the early MercyMe (7:25); the film's casting (7:23); the song's power and how it affected fans (7:43); a three-part look at making the film, with sections on directing, the visuals and the music (14:03); the music (6:48; some repetition); and Quaid performing and discussing his own song, "On My Way to Heaven" (8:45). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.5 stars

The Strangers: Prey at Night (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R/NR, both 85 min.). Based on true invents and inspired by the 2008 slasher film that starred Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, this remake is set in an empty vacation trailer park, where a squabbling family of four are terrorized by three masked, knife-wielding assailants, who apparently have already killed the family's Uncle Marv and Aunt Sheryl.

One problem with the film is nobody in the endangered family, with the possible exception of older son  Luke (Lewis Pullman), is worth rooting for. The parents -- Christina Hendricks as Cindy and Martin Henderson as Mike -- are basically fodder for slaughter, while daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) is annoying. The three masked killers are played by Emma Bellomy, Lea Enslin and Damian Maffei as the one who doesn't stay dead. Yes, that old horror trope is used.

Once the boring family squabbling -- Kinsey is being sent to boarding school in an attempt to settle her down -- ends and Luke starts fighting back, the film starts to become interesting. The first on-screen death is particularly cruel. In addition to the killer who will not die -- and driving a truck that is in flames, pahlease -- the other trope used is the character who will not fire a gun when they have the chance. The violence does escalate in an operatic manner in the film's last half hour.

Extras include an alternate ending -- it adds 30 seconds -- that actually is creepier and better than the one used in the film. The others are all brief and repeat a lot: a plot-filled making of (1:50), a look at the family (2:02), a look at the Eighties music used (2:46) and a "Prep For Night" music video that incorporates "I Think We're Alone Now" (2:29). The film, directed by Johannes Roberts ("47 Meters Down"), comes  in both R and unrated versions, both of the same length. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars

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