I've always thought Angelina Jolie was a far more exciting action figure than the role she reprises in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. For all the character details ascribed to the videogame-based heroine -- the posh Brit archaeologist likes guns, martial arts, and cardio activity; and dislikes rules, regular hours, and loose clothing -- Croft is one humorless butt-kicker. Excavations in exotic lands have rarely looked so much like items on a to-do list: In the first ''Tomb Raider'' two years ago, the priority was to find and destroy a relic that would, oh, mess with time, but the errand appeared to carry no more importance than shopping for hot pants.
Jolie, on the other hand, with the postcard-from-the-edge aura she has cultivated, is so intense and faintly scary a personality that I can't stop watching her. Even in such miscast junk as ''Life or Something Like It'', her ever-simmering volatility provides its own fascination; when the plot is a bore, the audience is entertained by searching out places where the tattoos have been hidden and looking forward to moments when the actress flares up beyond the call of the script, and perhaps beyond control.
It's with disorientation and disappointment, then, that I report a tamping down of Jolie's wildness, replaced by a tedious, more high-minded gravitas, in ''The Cradle of Life.'' Croft's caseload in this businesslike sequel is suitably heavy: She must stop a world-class villain (Ciaràn Hinds) from getting his mitts on Pandora's box, which turns out to be no myth but an actual hinged receptacle containing, oh, untold global evils. But having floated the message (in an EW interview and elsewhere) that the first ''Tomb Raider'' project lacked a strong story, and that the first 3-D version of the cartoon heroine wasn't enough of a ''complete woman'' to suit her tastes, the star is hindered by her own quest for depth.
For every scene of National Geographic-grand photography and showy action stuntwork put together by chick-action veteran director Jan De Bont (''Twister,'' ''Speed''), a little bit of Jolie's old dangerousness goes missing. Lara Croft ought to excavate that priceless relic.