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It's a wrap! Ancient curses, a mummified high priest, two rival parties searching for archaeological treasure and a dashing legionnaire with the hots for a prim and proper English Rose Egyptologist. Musty clichés, and a lot more besides, are unwisely dusted off again by Universal Pictures in a pretty desperate attempt to revive one of their oldest franchises. But director Stephen Sommers's wantonly B movie script cobbled around cartoon-like CGI special effects don't so much recall The Mummy, that 1932 classic shrieker starring Boris Karloff, as Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, the studio's last comedy monster gasp.
Giving a new lease of life to the vintage bandaged stalker by plonking him down in the middle of an Indiana Jones-style action adventure must have looked good on paper. Headlining neo matinee idol Brendan Fraser, fresh from his pumped-up George of the Jungle triumph, was another step in the right direction too. However, no one seems to have had any idea of what kind of movie they were ultimately making and therefore The Mummy veers alarmingly from kiddie Horror to lowest-common-denominator comedy with such breath-taking crassness that the chopping and changing tone becomes the scariest thing about it. Sommers got it sort-of-right with his daffy underwater alien opus Deep Rising. Here, that killer thriller energy and ironic edge is missing, leaving a group of underdeveloped characters wandering aimlessly through a series of randomly connected grave-robbing exploits searching for the lost romance of the piece along with any decent structure.
There's nothing to get excited about in the formulaic Twenties-set story as we've seen it all a hundred times before. Legionnaire Rick O'Connell (Fraser) teams up in Cairo with clumsy Egyptologist Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and her opportunist brother Jonathan (John Hannah) to search for the legendary Book of Amon Ra in the hidden ruins of Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead. A band of American treasure hunters are also on the trail of priceless artefacts, more for venal monetary than learning gain, and it's these scavengers who invoke a curse that reanimates the decomposing corpse of the evil high priest Imhotep.
Before long everyone is racing around one unimpressive set after another avoiding having their body parts nabbed by the zombie Mummy, running from flesh-eating scarab beetles and plagues of locusts to saving Evelyn from becoming the human host for Imhotep's long lost love, Anck-Su-Namun. Frankly, Hammer did this sort of thing a lot better and far less expensively.
Sadly, Fraser is rarely given any moment to shine or use his macho goofiness as his character increasingly takes a back stage to the special effects blitz. Bland Weisz does her typically 'jolly hockey sticks' number as the emancipated aristocrat with a rare college education and you'll want to kill Hannah yourself because his light 'hooray henry' comic relief enters the irritating zone in record time. Only Arnold Vosloo as the barely human face of Imhotep gives these tomb desecration antics a commanding focus. But what can you expect when Sommers's script does nothing remotely interesting or different with such pyramid selling tactics. Talos the Mummy might not be as high-end or as costly, but it contains a lot more original ideas than this embalmed entertainment.
Sommers's story is a patchwork of everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jason and the Argonauts and Gunga Din without the fantasy effervescence. Not to mention the load of baggage from all the other people involved in this long-gestating project over the past decade; the Hellraiser box key idea courtesy of Clive Barker; the living dead army from George Romero; the satanic verses from John Carpenter. Mick Garris and Joe Dante's touches are apparent too and add to the dog's dinner feel of this mouldy oldie. There'll be a few Oohs and Aahs at the first sight of the digital cannibal bugs and there's an early coffin scare hinting at an agreeably jokey EC Comics atmosphere which unfortunately fails to materialize. The knife-edge Sommers's sarcophagus saga tries to balance on just isn't sharp enough.
Elsewhere, from The Prince of Egypt flashback opening to the Jason-inspired skeleton battle finale, the special effects are routine with most creepy fun to be had from the oozing zombie CGI-into-reincarnated Vosloo visuals. Unlike The Matrix, that current watershed of digital effects, The Mummy has a nostalgic blue-screen sheen about it which, at an artistic stretch, fits the old-fashioned mode of presentation. One oasis in a parched desert of hoary concepts though is not enough to propel this watered down affair above average popcorn level. A crummy Mummy, and no bones about it.
4 out of 10
The Mummy picture copyright Universal
'Before long everyone is racing around one unimpressive set after another avoiding having their body parts nabbed by the zombie Mummy'
|The Mummy: Producers, James Jacks & Sean Daniel. Executive
producer, Kevin Jarre. Co-producer, Patricia Carr
Director, Stephen Sommers.
Screenplay from a screen story by Stephen Sommers, Lloyd Fonvielle, Kevin Jarre.
Music, Jerry Goldsmith.
Starring, Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J O'Connor, Jonathan Hyde, Oded Fehr, Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, Tuc Watkins.
120 mins. Cert PG-13/12.
Released America: May. Britain: June.