From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, a game-to-movie conversion that definitely didn't get its own line of Happy Meal toys. Still, can't be worse than Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life.
Since 1996, Lara Croft has been one of the most recognisable faces (not to mention certain other body parts) of the games industry. Movies like this were inevitable. We all know they exist. But what sexy horrors hide behind their weak puns and obvious gimmickry? Time to find out.
Porn parodies are nothing new, and almost every big Hollywood movie gets at least one—usually with awful punny names like The Bare Witch Project, A Clockwork Orgy, or something bland, like Star Trek XXX: A Porn Parody. Why is the 'parody' bit so important? Put simply, it offers at least some measure of legal defence that other shameless rip-offs don't get, regardless of how much they actually takes the piss instead of just putting a few joke names amongst some cheap cosplay sex scenes.
Games on the other hand don't get many—at least outside of Japan, where... don't ask. They do happen in the west though, with titles ranging from Left 4 Head to Whorelore (originally World of Whorecraft, but Blizzard stamped down on that pretty fast) and—ugh—Call of Booty: Modern Whorefare. Classy.
Tomb Raider unsurprisingly has more than most, from Erotic Raider, which is apparently a rebranded parody of The Mummy, to something called Jewel Raider: Tomb Raper. How unpleasant. There's also a short video clip of someone dressed as Lara on a bus that goes round the web every year or so, notable mostly for the fact that she's apparently wearing her t-shirt over a rucksack, and one simply called Tomb Raider XXX. I could link to some of these, but obviously I'm not going to. Instead, enjoy this YouTube friendly clip of Ron Jeremy in "Super Hornio Bros".
Womb Raider is probably the most infamous though, mostly because it uses one of the pun names that has haunted the series ever since it was released. How it compares to its competitors, I neither know nor care. They may offer amazing, exciting and hilarious spins on their source material, but I doubt it.
How does it do as erotica? Personally speaking, I spent the majority of this DVD (requested from Lovefilm, along with Citizen Kane, The Sound of Music and a documentary on whelk farming to distract whoever packs the discs) fast-forwarding through the sex scenes or idly reading my Kindle between plot sections. I suppose that if you get turned on by bored naked ladies rubbing each others' squidgy bits until their contractual obligation to do so comes to an end, this movie has you covered.
If not, it's a long hour and a half.
There is a story here though—and a surprisingly ambitious one for a film being shot on a budget of 'whatever we found down the back of the sofa'. It tries to be a globe-spanning action movie for starters, with some semblance of a plot connecting its 'action' sequences. There's even a hilarious Making Of video on the DVD where the crew earnestly discuss the shooting process as if this was an actual movie rather than a shameless attempt to piggy-back on a famous name with the power of lesbian sex.
"It's about a girl who's trying to fulfil her father's dream, basically," explains one guy, apparently somewhat misinformed. "When you shoot a film like this, you're not just shooting this film—you're living it," adds the director. "You're going on the experience that the characters are going on."
Really? I doubt that. Neither has the right equipment, for starters. And I don't mean a camera.
The 'experience' kicks off in a small Californian town-house masquerading as somewhere in a film that can afford proper locations. Lara Croft... sorry, wait... "Cara Loft" lies on top of a bed with zebra print pillows, under a mosquito net, in a room that clearly has electrical lighting but is still lit with regular candles in Blatant Disregard For Safety. She unenthusiastically plays with herself in ways that none of the games have offered a control scheme for, but which mostly looks like she's having a bad dream that someone stole her genitals and keeps feeling the need to reach down and check everything's okay.
About five minutes or so of that later, a female thief breaks into her room through the open window with a look that seems to say "Get on with it, woman, I've got five more heists to do tonight!" She's dressed all in black, if you don't count the torrent of bright ginger hair pouring down her back, and wastes no time raiding Cara's jewellery box for what looks like an incredibly cheap necklace.
"Lights!" commands Cara, rising up and pointing her guns at the thief, and also a couple of pistols.
"Whoever said diamonds are forever must obviously have kept theirs in a safe," intones Cara, in a dreadful attempt at a posh English accent. The thief counters by pulling a flick-knife and holding it up to a statue on the nearest table, before remembering that—ideally—it helps for hostages to be alive.
"Diamonds can also be a girl's best friend," she growls back in a... French, maybe... accent, pulling off her balaclava to reveal that she has a face underneath the impressive amount of hair. "My name iz Milla. And if I had wanted to, I could have ztolen ze necklace and killed you in your zleep."
The two banter for a bit with excruciating ADR dubbing, before Milla explains her presence.
"I am not a theef. I am juzt a mezzenger."
"What kind of messenger wears black, scales balconies and carries a Special Forces knife?"
"I work for Scrotus."
"Dr. Scrotus?" asks Cara. "The archeologist turned ancient art-collector?"
Time-out. First, if this movie wanted to save itself, the correct response would have been "No, Bob Scrotus, the insurance salesman from Kennebunkport." But it doesn't. Instead, not only is the identifying factor of a man called "Scrotus" that he's an art-collector, he turns out to be the only person in this movie with a porny joke name. Would it have killed them to think up a spin on an actual character from the game series instead of... that? Jacqueline Natal, maybe? Pierre DuEveryone? Sophia Lay?
Oooh, I know. Wanker von Croy!
"He was friends with your father, Lord Loft."
"My father's dead."
"I know," Milla tells her, handing over a card. "Tha mezzage. Dr. Scrotus wanted me to give thiz to you."
The card is an invitation to Dr. Scrotus' house at 7PM the next day—the kind of thing usually best sent through the post instead of by a thief in the night, but then with a name like Dr. Scrotus it's not as though he has to worry about accidentally slipping into villainy or anything. Cara unsurprisingly blows her off. But first, she refuses the invitation on the grounds that she has yoga tomorrow.
"Yoga... will not tell you how your father died."
Unfair. He was pretty straight about it last time someone asked. "Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice."
Milla promises that Scrotus will make it worth her time, joining her on the bed and pawing at her face. Cara gets a look in her eyes that can best be described as "well, here we go, I guess..." Cara moves in for a kiss anyway, but they end up rubbing cheeks instead, then trying the kissing thing again and getting locked in a kind of duel where both try to bite off each other's top lip. It has all the sentiment of an unsigned Christmas card at Easter and is about as sexy as a beetroot smoothie.
A few minutes and one bland song later, Milla slips off like a thief in the night. Cara watches her go, and sadly digs a small locket out from under her pillow and takes a few moments to bask in post-coital afterglow by being stared at by a grinning picture of her father that seems to be saying "Attagirl!" His gaze is so hypnotic, she's still fixated by it several hours and one scene transition later. As, it appears, is the director, who lingers on it for about a minute—occasionally cutting away to show that while Cara isn't exactly filling Lara's bra, she can at least pull off the trademark ponytail well enough.
The eye-moistening sadness is soon broken by the arrival of Lara's irritating, innocent, blond-dyed assistant Dillon. He serves two roles in the movie—to go "Bwah?!" at anything sexy happening, in a way that really makes you wish they'd been able to afford flesh-eating tigers in this movie, and help provide clumsy exposition. Clumsy exposition like...
"You really miss your father, Lord Loft. Don't you?"
"Yes. I suppose I do."
"It's terrible how he vanished without a trace. Wasn't he searching for some ancient artifact?"
"Yes. Three of them."
Cara smiles, changing the subject back to herself. She's decided to take the evil Dr. Scrotus up on his offer, and that it's only polite to show up to his stately... small house... wearing something 'naughty'. This turns out to be a tight-fitting, movement restricting silver dress—making the real Lara's habit of running around the Andes in a crop-top and shorts seem almost sane. Just to complete the fashion disaster, she couples this with a pair of incredibly heavy-looking combat boots. Dillon sighs as he watches her ass waddle down the side of a house that they're trying to pretend is Dr. Scrotus' palatial mansion, and pulls out a Gameboy that bloops and bleeps exactly like a real Gameboy doesn't.
At the front door Cara is met by an underwear-clad girl called Natasha. They exchange some polite banter, Cara not saying "Do you think you're taking Casual Friday a bit far?" and Natasha not replying "Do you not think that when your nipples are poking through your dress, it's time to go up a size or so to avoid chafing?" The movie tries to give this a bit of a sexual undercurrent, though the best it can really offer is an equally unspoken "So, we'll be pretending to have sex later, right?" followed by "Yep."
Pleasantries over, Cara is led into the living room of the great Dr. Scrotus and...
Oh, god. Scrotus is a gravel-voiced bald man with the world's fakest beard-and-moustache combination, a gravelly voice that sounds like it's taking a break from yelling "Next time, Gadget!" and—at least later on—bright gold eyeshadow, just in case anyone on Earth is still taking him seriously.
The two chat, and Scrotus tells Cara that he was the one who accidentally—BWAH HA HA—sent her father to his death. They were searching for three sacred 'wombs', and it's something of a relief to find out that the title refers to these small idols scattered around the world. It may be a painful attempt to squeeze a pun out of the title, but at least it's not quite as gynecological as it sounded.
"The power they have to give man the ability to create life is only a myth," Cara tells him.
"Everything... is myth..." growls Scrotus. "Until... proven fact..."
"Fact is, nobody knows where the three sacred wombs are. You have nothing I want."
She makes to leave, but Natasha blocks the path with her breasts and also the rest of her body. Scrotus dramatically draws a katana... and uses it to pass over a map in a tube. This incredibly detailed map proves to pinpoint the exact location of the three sacred wombs. It's practically GPS.
One quick scene-setting trip to the side of a fence next to one of the many airports that a film like this was never going to have the budget to actually film inside (and featuring a hilarious moment that looks like there's a police car running over to intercept the film crew in case they're terrorists—which wouldn't be the first time a Lara has gotten in trouble with the law) it's off to Arabia for the first womb.
Cara immediately demonstrates her survival training and instinct for self-preservation by going in search of the womb on foot. In the middle of the desert. Wearing high-heeled combat boots, shorts and a t-shirt, and exactly one small water canteen. Boiling in the sun, she opts to cool off by taking off her shirt and slinging it over her shoulder, then ditching her bra not long afterwards—presumably to avoid any unsightly tan-lines in her upcoming weeks of second-degree sunburn.
Hours of wandering later, she's still lost in the desert—though dressed again, in a victory for common sense, if not fanservice. She compensates by finally opening her one single canteen of water... and pouring the whole thing out over her face and cleavage. Idiot! Stupidity is not sexy!
Unsure of where to go next, she damply sits back to meditate. "Father always did say to trust my instincts," she announces with a smile, and climbs up onto the highest rock in the area to strip naked... except for her combat boots for some reason... and have another shower. Cara, I'm fairly sure that's not what your father had in mind. If he did though, it would explain a lot about the locket thing.
While this flagrant waste of water goes on, we see that Natasha has followed her to Arabia and is hiding in the shadows, turning the impromptu show into a private hands-on experience. All this poses many questions, though honestly the biggest one is: why would anyone pack shampoo to rub over themselves in a desert survival kit? Things like this really take you out of the narrative. I'm just saying.
Cara finally tracks down her target—a nomadic prince who guards the first womb—and slips inside by seemingly suffocating one of his belly dancing concubines and stealing what passes for her clothes. Our heroine! Inside, she slips him a mickey that she just happened to have packed along with her shampoo, but gets caught before it has a chance to kick in. Maybe she should have brought guns instead.
The prince turns out to be a master of subtle communication. managing to convey both 'strip her' and 'commence lesbian sex' with what sounds to the untrained ear like the same clap. Cue another five minutes of bored stares and random skin rubbing, in which the three girls run out of things to do so quickly at one point Cara resorts to licking someone's leg. The prince watches with an expression that starts out saying "I'm not sure what you think you just did, but I'll go with it for now..." but which soon morphs into something closer to "You know what, this is actually quite dull. Oh, how I wish we could play Dungeons & Dragons. I'd be a High Elf mage called Trixiebelle and I would know all the spells."
Finally, he falls asleep. Cara grins in victory, but politely finishes off the other girls before getting back to the story. She produces a lockpick from her discarded clothes, then rushes over to give the Prince's treasure chest the same amount of attention he just gave hers. Hurrah! One McGuffin down.
"Africa" is hilarious. It's clearly a Californian dirt road in the hills, turned into African savannah by shamelessly splicing in stock footage of rhinos, tigers and other animals every time Cara glances out of her jeep. Unfortunately, the good times can't last. Barely a minute later, the jeep grinds to a halt on a hill and she has to get out to fix it. This doesn't seem too tricky—just a case of adding more water to the engine. The only catch is that it's too hot to touch, forcing her to take off her T-Shirt, use it to protect her hand as she opens it up, then spend the rest of the rough ride bouncing around topless.
Oh, except that she's wearing thick leather gloves.
Honestly, it's like they don't even care about plot holes...
Cara soon meets up with Dillon, who passes the 'Eyes Up Here' test with flying colours, even when she poses in front of him to show off her 'native look'. As she puts on a spare t-shirt that he conveniently had waiting, he tells her that the co-ordinates for the next womb are just a short walk away.
"Excellent," announces Cara. "According to Dr. Scrotus' map, the second womb idol is buried in a holy mud pit guarded by an ancient Zulu warrior."
Eh, sounds plausible.
"Aren't Zulu warriors extinct?" asks Dillon, failing history. But it turns out that there's a little more to it than that. Specifically, this "Zulu" warrior is immortal, so there's at least a 5% chance that Cara will have to think up some non-lesbian sex method for dealing with what is at least potentially a him.
They take a boat down the river, followed by hacking their way through the 'jungle' with a 'machete' while more animal sounds play. There isn't enough undergrowth in California to make this walk in the woods look like the darkest jungle, so mostly she's swinging at exactly nothing—but it kinda works. She even gets to keep her clothes on for a couple of minutes, which almost counts as a plot twist!
Soon enough though, the duo sense the "Zulu" warrior chasing them and are forced to run—pausing only to run into one of the worst Indiana Jones shout-outs ever committed to film—with one of them tumbling messily into the oozing, sticky caress of the sacred mud pit. Can you guess which one?
Nope, it's Dillon.
Also, it's not exactly 'mud'. Or a 'pit'. But 'small hole we dug this morning and then poured mucky water into when we got bored of that' probably didn't sound as sexy when writing the script.
Cara unloads both of her guns at the "Zulu" warrior, before realising that this isn't a Tomb Raider game where mystical ammunition elves will sneak in and leave shotgun shells in ancient tombs. Out of bullets, she runs to Dillon with the "Zulu" in hot pursuit—only to find that, it's a pretty young woman. What were the odds of that, eh? 1 in 1, or slightly better? I never was much good at maths.
"I am the protector of the idol, and have been for a thousand years," the "Zulu" tells her. Cara shrugs this off and tells Dillon to go back home while she 'plays in the mud'.
The two square off and fight unenthusiastically around the watery bidet, but Cara is quickly outmatched. Pushed to the ground, a hand round her throat, she lashes out with the ultimate attack... a quick smooch. The "Zulu" is so stunned by this, and from the look of it, the film so disappointed with its mud pit, that they drop the fight entirely in favour of what can only be described as a lesbian mind meld. For the next few minutes, they sit around and engage in spiritual making out in another dimension of the soul or something, only to finally wake up and discover that it's now the middle of the night.
At which point Natasha shows up and just shoots the "Zulu". Immortal warrior, my ass.
For no particularly good reason, the two put this random murder aside to go in search of the third and final womb in Tibet—a fairly nice, hilly looking area of Probably California. Guided by a monk, and pausing for Natasha to take a bite of Dillon's banana because comedy, they track it to a cave behind a particularly drippy waterfall. If this sounds abrupt, it's because not much happens.
For some reason, Cara decides that she and Natasha need to strip off and dress in flappy ceremonial robes to go inside. In theory, it's something to do with putting aside worldly things. In practice, it's because neither gets anything to hold them shut as they crawl through the tight rock corridors. This looks fairly unpleasant, and with lots of grazing and cutting potential. If only clothes had been popularised as a way to protect against harm instead of just cover up shameful naughty bits...
"Are you sure you're prepared for what you might find?" Dillon asks nervously.
"Absolutely," says Cara, knowing that the odds of it turning out to be random lesbian sex are roughly 99% and rising. She hands Dillon the two already collected wombs for safekeeping, and she and Natasha head in to face their destiny armed with only a couple of oddly phallic-looking glowsticks.
The final womb is in a cave, guarded by a conveniently invisible barrier and two gold-painted statues of naked women wielding swords and wearing... smiling unicorn masks? Okay. Whatever.
Natasha eagerly reaches for the prize, but that only activates the guards. They creep up behind, swords ready to strike, and in one case, breasts twitching oddly and horns... erect.
"Only those true of heart and soul can pass to take the idol," says the first.
"Those not worthy shall perish by our hands," adds the other.
And how do you prove worthiness? Charitable works? Devotion to the teachings of—
"You must offer yourselves entirely. Offer your bodies. Please us. Please us or die.
Of course. Cara and Natasha exchange glances that could be anything from "Again?" to "If they're really statues, this is seriously going to chafe, isn't it?" and "Do you think they'll use their horns?" Enthusiastic as a poison taster, Cara drops her robe and thinks of England. Natasha on the other hand hangs back to have a me-party for a while, before noticing that she can just take the damn idol and run away with it.
So she does. And that is officially the Smartest Moment in the Film.
Cara finally notices and runs out, leaving her ceremonial robe behind. Outside, Dillon is missing, as are the wombs and apparently all her belongings. She stands naked and defeated on the edge of the mountain and screams her enemy's cursed name in anger, in fury, in desperation, and in the sudden realisation that Captain James T. Kirk was lucky as hell to have a nemesis called "Khan".
Just doesn't work, does it?
Back at the Scrot Cave, Dr. Scrotus thanks his lucky stars that Cara was too stupid to stash any of the wombs somewhere safer than her rucksack, or simply smash one of them to prevent their power being abused. His goons slap Dillon a bit while he gloats about his vague new power and demands Natasha entertain them both with stories of exactly how much she made Cara cry before killing her.
"Like a baby pig," Natasha lies, smart enough to realise that maybe simply leaving her stark naked in the middle of Tibet wasn't in fact enough of a prank to impress the boss. Or possibly she just feels bad about the whole 'handed the world over to a supervillain' thing. Either works, really.
About five femtoseconds later however, Cara shows up with both pistols firing. For about three seconds. Then she runs out of ammo. Which she only brought two clips of. Again. Tomb Raider combat has always been pretty dreadful, so I guess this is accurate. Still, it's a whole new low for gunplay....
Out of ammo, Scrotus' guards cackle and level their guns for the final kill. But! At the last second! A shot rings out from the darkness as Natasha shoots first, then quietly hands Cara her gun.
You know, it strikes me that Natasha is a ridiculously more efficient agent than Cara ever gets to be. She's fast enough to reach two of the three idols about as quickly as the star, and Cara only does that because Scrotus tells her exactly where to look in the first place. Twice, she takes out armed assailants in a single hit, and at no point in the entire story is she ever caught with her pants down either literally or metaphorically. Sure, she works for the villain, but you've got to give credit where it's due.
Oh, and speaking of the villain...
"Stay back!" Scrotus growls. "The idols are mine!"
"You killed my father. The power of creation should not be left in the hands of a murderer."
She fires at almost point blank range and Scrotus falls back with a scream. No bullethole, of course, so she might have missed completely and he just didn't want her to feel bad about the fact, but we can probably assume that he's dead. Cara doesn't bother checking. She just picks up the idols and heads off for a final shot of 'you worked for the villain and stabbed me in the back and kidnapped my friend and also that was my favourite bra you stole in Tibet but I guess we're okay now' sex. Which is the 37th best kind of sex, between 'for the chance to win a Microsoft Zune' and 'because the cat is watching'.
Well, that was a dreadful, dreadful movie. Despite being a 'parody', there are maybe four or five jokes scattered throughout the entire thing, and most of them both unintentional and in the Making Of documentary. Definite fail there. It's also deeply, deeply unsexy, with exactly no emotion or passion to speak of. As for the story? Words seem pointless, so let's just write it off with the sound 'Pfffffffft.'
On the other hand, The Cradle Of Life was a worthless pile of crap too, and that one cost an estimated $90,000,000 to inflict on the world. Imagine how many orphans could have been fed with that money. Think of how many people were forced to sit through the whole thing because walking out of the cinema would have been a waste of an afternoon. At least Womb Raider was low budget, and aimed at a market that could have been done with it in five minutes. Two, if they got started during the copyright warning.
So, yes. Womb Raider. Awful, obviously but still a better experience than The Cradle of Life, if only in the same way that root canal surgery will always be less fun than merely finding a hair in your soup. Even if you then look up to see an oily, bald chef standing in the kitchen. Reaching into his pants.
And taking a good long scratch.