How does Paramount explain the weekend's most shocking box office story, the failure of the much-hyped ''Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life'' to open higher than fourth place, with a take of just $21.7 million? Was it the unforeseen strength of the ''Spy Kids'' franchise, whose latest installment was the weekend's top movie? Was it ''Tomb Raider 2'''s lackluster reviews? Was it the possible media overexposure of the suddenly ubiquitous Angelina Jolie? Was it the audience's blockbuster fatigue syndrome that seems to have hurt several action extravaganzas this summer? No, Paramount says, it's the fault of the latest Lara Croft video game.
That's the excuse offered by Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen, who told Reuters, ''The only thing we can attribute that to is that the gamers were not happy with the latest version of the 'Tomb Raider' video game, which is our core audience.'' As it turns out, ''Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness'' has been a big seller since its release on June 20, Reuters reports, but critics have complained that the game has so many bugs that it's nearly impossible to play. Gamemaker Eidos hasn't commented on Paramount's charge, but a senior Eidos executive, Jeremy Heath-Smith, resigned days after the game's release. Guess the lesson, courtesy of ''Spy Kids,'' is to base your movie on an imaginary video game.