Ever since taking the video game world by storm with the 1996 release of Tomb Raider, it seemed only a matter of time before the series’ buxom heroine, Lara Croft, would find her way to Hollywood. Fast-forward to 2001, and gamers worldwide were anxiously awaiting the release of Lara Croft’s first foray into the realm of live-action in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”.

“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” chronicles one of the many adventures of Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), a modern-day, female version of Indiana Jones. After uncovering a long-buried secret from her father’s mysterious past, Lara learns she must seek out a powerful object known as The Triangle of Light. Upon embarking on this perilous quest, Lara soon discovers that she is not the only one interested in the artifact. A secret society known as The Illuminati hope to attain control of the Triangle, and if they succeed, our world could be in grave danger.

The fact that this movie is based on a wildly successful video game franchise almost guarantees that at best it will be viewed as a guilty pleasure by those that enjoy it. I for one can confirm that while I did enjoy the movie, the experience is firmly cemented in the aforementioned arena. Now, some could view this status as a bad thing, I for one do not, in most cases; especially, if the creative forces behind the film appear content with that rating.

The moment the movie began it was crystal clear that this was never intended to be taken all that seriously as a film. From the writers to the director and stars, basically everyone associated with the movie undoubtedly knew that this was to be nothing more than pure, unadulterated fun. Just watch ten minutes of the movie and you understand instantly who this movie was geared towards. Obviously, its primary focus was to entertain the core audience of gamers that love the franchise and any teenage guys (or adult men) who enjoy non-stop action, explosions, guns, and above all… seeing Angelina Jolie on screen. In all of these areas, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this movie succeeded with great ease; hence, the guilty pleasure status.

Written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman (both are writers on TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) the story appears to have one simple goal: take the audience from action scene A to action scene B and so on. If you’re lucky, there could be a little bit of character development sprinkled throughout, just enough to feed the potential sequel; other than that, the plot is fairly thin and not particularly imaginative. Although, for a movie like this, I really didn’t expect much more, so I’m not that surprised by the lacking storyline. However, due to the fact that the video games, on which the film was based, are actually quite rich in story (especially nowadays); I for one wish that the writers had put in a little more time and effort into making the story interesting rather than filler between action set pieces. Like I said, the writers clearly had one goal (albeit a far too simple one) and in that they succeeded, but a little more work would have been appreciated.

Helming the movie is director Simon West, whose previous work on the action-packed “Con Air” and the thriller “The General’s Daughter” proved he had what it took to make an entertaining movie. In terms of this film’s action, there is no denying that Simon West provided some very exciting action sequences; however, there were a few shortcomings where the action featured visual effects. These flaws, I believe, exposed Simon’s inexperience in the realm of CGI, and became a slight detriment to the final product. While scenes involving predominantly real people were fast-paced and exciting, those featuring virtual characters looked awkward and lacked the momentum that carried the other sequences so well. Case in point would be the opening scene involving the training robot that Lara fights. There are moments in this scene that look great, but other times it looks amateurish at best. Despite his action movie experience, perhaps someone more proficient than Simon West in the use of visual effects would have been better suited to direct this film.

Even though Simon West’s directing was sometimes hampered whenever CGI was present, that doesn’t absolve the various effects houses from shouldering some criticism. Some of the special effects in the movie look great even to this day; however, there were others that looked weak upon the film’s release and look just as bad, if not worse now. Due to the fact that over ten different visual effects companies were used on this film, perhaps “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is yet another example of too many hands stirring the pot. Honestly, when this film was released there were numerous other movies in theaters that were just as CGI intensive, if not more so, and many of them looked excellent from start to finish. What it boils down to is this, there is no excuse for a movie with a budget as big as this one’s (around $115 million) to not feature top-notch visual effects. Shame on the various effects houses for not producing better work than what was on display.

In an all-out action movie, such as this one, it’s not surprising when the cast doesn’t exactly receive award nominations or blow anyone away with their performances. To be honest, I doubt anybody expected any different from a video game adaptation. Although, there was one member of the film’s cast that was a bit of a surprise to me. It wasn’t the choice that surprised me, but the fact that the person actually accepted the role. The cast member I’m referring to is none other than the star herself, Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

What made the surprise a pleasant one, aside from the obvious appeal of Angelina in the role, is that it’s fun to see actors and actresses who are willing to set aside the critics and the awards from time to time. Whenever a star chooses to participate in a project because it’s fun and shows potential to be a real crowd pleaser is almost always a treat. Of course, this decision could have turned very ugly for Ms. Jolie had the movie not been a success, as so many other equally talented actors and actresses have discovered. Even though the risk was potentially great, I’m sure the reward of a growing fan base as a result of a successful adaptation was well worth it in the end.

Prior to her casting, Angelina could have easily passed as a real life version of the character based solely on her looks or at least served as possible inspiration for the character’s appearance. Another reason her casting surprised me was because the role was so unlike most of her previous work, which had been predominantly dramatic in nature, not counting “Gone in 60 Seconds”. Even with her relative inexperience in the world of action films, Angelina handled the role rather well. There were just a few moments where she seemed a little uncertain of herself, but generally she stayed true to the character’s confident nature as depicted in the video games.

Aside from Angelina, the remainder of the cast wasn’t really comprised of any really recognizable Hollywood talent. Well, let me clarify, veteran actor Jon Voight (“Transformers”) does have a few scenes as Lara Croft’s father (he also happens to be Angelina’s real-life father), so I guess my statement’s not completely true. His appearance in the film, basically a glorified cameo, did assist in providing the movie’s extremely sparse dramatic moments, lending some weight to an otherwise lightweight affair.

Actor Daniel Craig, who has become much more recognizable the last few years thanks to his role as James Bond, appears in a relatively generic role as a rival tomb raider who fancies himself Lara’s better, despite all evidence to the contrary. Daniel plays the role as one-dimensional as the very paper it was written on. He never once injected any real sense of life into the role to make it more exciting or interesting for the viewer, and as a result his character is easily forgettable. Yet, I must give him some slack, because clearly the script didn’t call for much depth to this character, or any others; so, perhaps he wasn’t confident enough in his career or craft to make decisions that would affect his character’s story.

The other actors in this movie were adequate for their roles, but just like Daniel Craig’s, they were fairly straight-forward, cookie-cutter cut-outs of typical action movie characters we’ve seen a thousand times before. British actor Noah Taylor did provide the movie some fairly humorous moments as Lara’s assistant and technical genius, Bryce. Again, aside from some good comedic timing, Noah didn’t really bring anything terrific to the role, but he was at least more memorable thanks to his humor than most of the other supporting roles.

It occurred to me while watching the movie that the lack of any truly interesting characters, aside from the titular one, coupled with a fairly unoriginal and basic plot, could have served as an example of how not to make a film adaptation based on a video game or otherwise. However, the film’s terrific turn at the box office allowed it to emerge victorious over its various inherent faults. Despite its drawbacks, I have to say that “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is a superficially entertaining action adventure. Just be sure to check your brain at the door first.

“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is rated PG-13 for violence and brief sensuality.