One can see the wheels turning -- literally and figuratively -- in "Tomb Raider" as young adventurer Lara Croft frequently finds herself twisting some hand-held puzzle box, bike racing around London or turning the wheel of some ancient machinery to unlock a door. And just as clearly, we can see the film's producers deciding what will make this reboot of the two-film 2001-2003 Angeline Jolie franchise click with audiences: big-scale action, a few familiar character actors and a hard sell on the ostensibly sexy, smart, strong heroine, now embodied by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander ("The Danish Girl").
Vikander's Croft, a 21-year-old Londoner who can't pay her bills, kickboxes for fun (and therapy?) when not dashing about on her bike delivering food for "SnackCycle." It's an ignominious fate for someone who grew up in the sprawling Croft Manor as the daughter of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), CEO of Croft Holdings and part-time globetrotting archeologist. He disappeared seven years ago, but Lara can't accept that he's dead and, as such, won't claim her inheritance.
Just as she's about to give up the ghost, Lara discovers the truth about her father's final mission: to find and protect the tomb of Himiko from an ancient militant organization named the Order of Trinity. In flashback, Richard oddly claims, "All myths have a foundation in reality" to defend the notion that Himiko retains the power of a "touch of death." In his mind, Himiko poses a global threat should her grave be opened, but all Lara cares about is the possibility that her father may still be out there, alive but lost to the world.
And away we go, on an action-adventure built for as many cliffhangers as possible, many of them literal. One begins to suspect Vikander was paid by the dangle, as she clings to cliffsides, a construction crane, a rusted airplane perched over a waterfall and, of course, the crumbling innards of a tomb. Working with a $90-million budget, Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug ("The Wave") successfully gives the impression of a big production effectively realized, in spite of its poker-faced silliness.
Partly because Vikander's skills don't lie with charismatic comedy, this "Tomb Raider" doesn't so much grasp for fun as for thrills and melodrama, tugging mightily at the father-daughter plot thread.
In fleeting appearances, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas and Sir Derek Jacobi bring the gravitas, and Nick Frost brings the comic relief, but they're only around long enough to make you wish they were around more. Mostly, this "Tomb Raider" amounts to another politely dull blockbuster, lacking in originality and wit. The enterprise puts a female hero front and center, but it's hard to get a bead on her: one minute she's an all-heart blunderer, the next an unaccountably skilled (or just extraordinarily lucky?) puzzle-solving warrior. And in a coup de grace of bad timing, we get to watch Lara enthusiastically learn that happiness is two-fisting guns.