Monday, February 19, 2018

7 Guardians of the Tomb: Li Bingbing, Tomb Raider

China has a love-hate relationship with tomb spelunkers. The government rails against western looters and demands the restitution of national antiquities. On the other hand, some of China’s bestselling novel, film, and television franchises feature Lara Croft-Indiana Jones-style characters, including the Ghost Blows Out the Light and Daomu Biji books that have spawned competing film and television adaptations. At least this Chinese-Australian co-production develops its own “original” mythology. It is all very ridiculous, but it is still good clean fun to head into the ancient lair with producer Li Bingbing in Kimble Rendall’s 7 Guardians of the Tomb (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

As an expert in poisonous venoms, Dr. Jia Lee could be quite useful on this outing, but she also has a personal stake. It is her adventurer brother Luke who is missing. He had been searching for a fabled emperor’s tomb that supposedly holds his alchemist’s secret rejuvenating elixir or some such thing. Apparently, his potion worked, he just got tired of his boss, or so we can glean from confusing costumed flashbacks.

Regardless, the expedition funded by cosmetics-pharma tycoon Mason Kitteridge, an old family friend of the Lees and Luke’s boss, is about to get chased underground by a Biblically-sized sandstorm. The good new is Luke’s GPS is still faintly transmitting. The bad news is millions of highly organized killer spiders stand between Dr. Jia’s ragtag group and her brother.

Guardians (the whole “7” business is obviously just a ploy to get it listed highly in VOD menus) aims to please during its economical eighty-three minute running time, offering up plenty of booby traps, ancient clues, and creepy-crawly arachnids. Li is a highly credible action lead—arguably more so than Kellan Lutz acting petulant as the boorish search-and-rescue expert, Jack Ridley. Stef Dawson, Jason Chong, and Shane Jacobson add some color and seasoning as the expedition’s communications specialist, archeologist, and blokey comic relief, respectively. However, the real MVP is Kelsey Grammer, who definitely came to play, which means he chews the scenery with a vengeance as arrogant old Kitteridge.

The tomb trappings are decent and the spider effects are good enough to freak out an arachnophobe. The backstory really makes no sense whatsoever and the rest of the story isn’t exactly rigorously logical either. It’s not Raiders of the Lost Ark (neither was the last Indiana Jones movie, for that matter), but it is enjoyable to see Li take the lead and Grammer do his villainous thing. Despite his extensive sitcom work, he really has a talent for playing bad guys. As a guilty pleasure, 7 Guardians of the Tomb is a perfect hangover VOD movie, so be advised when it opens this Friday (2/23) in LA at the Laemmle Music Hall and also releases through the On Demand platform.