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the Mummy
starring: Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz

by David
Summer, 1999


Raiders of the Lost Ark it ain't.

Universal Pictures' the Mummy is a circus of gratuitous special effects barely held together by a huge budget and Brendan Fraser's inexplicable charm. The writing is as thin as the visuals are eye-popping, and most of the characters are even thinner. I'm not a film "purist" who wants all remakes to be true to their originals, but I'd have loved this film to have been true to something. Anything.

After a short prologue showing Egyptian high priest Imhotep killing his pharoah over a woman, trying to raise her from the dead, and being mummified alive (all accompanied by an annoying voice-over -- like the audience couldn't figure out from the visuals what was going on), the film jumps to the early 20th century. We see Rick O'Connell(Brendan Fraser) as an American soldier who's company stumbles onto Hamunaptra, Egypt's long lost City of the Dead (where Imhotep was buried). After his company is slaughtered (he is spared only because of his enemies' fear of the place), he wanders back to Cairo and gets put in jail for something. He is rescued from jail by a beautiful, bumbling librarian and the two of them, along with her slimy kleptomaniac brother and his smelly jailer, begin their wacky journey back to Hamunaptra to claim the horde of treasure supposedly buried there. Along the way they are joined by a group of gung-ho Americans (you can tell they are Americans because they yell "Yee-haw!" a lot and shoot anything that moves). After battling through the descendants of the City's guardians to reach the fabled place, they stupidly awaken Imhotep from his slumber. Imhotep goes on a rampage which includes (not necessarily in this order) killing the Americans, destrying the world, and using the beatiful bumbling librarian as a human sacrifice to finally raise his dead lover.

Not the worst plot in the world and, as far as blockbuster films go, this one had definite potential. The problems lie primarily in the script and the execution.

Exhibit A: the Heroes
Out of all of the principal characters (we'll count only the largest 7 roles), the only character that you care about even remotely is O'Connell, and that is only because Fraser is so damn likable. Even the most grisly death of any other character evokes at best a mild itchy feeling, more typically a casual yawn. The other characters don't even react with anything more than a short "eep" when a companion's eyes are gouged out or his bones leeched of their accompanying flesh. The heroes are also either incredibly stupid or amazingly cool and non-chalant -- making jokes and sitting in a bar drinking while the Ten Plagues of Egypt rain down on their heads and their companions' life forces are sucked away by a walking corpse. I couldn't even tell if any of the actors were good -- their dialogue was so juvenile that Sir Alec Guiness would have sounded like Keanu Reeves.

Exhibit B: the Villain
Imhotep, despite his cool name and the fact that he was once the high-priest of Egypt, is also dumb as a rock. In the grand tradition of Batman and James Bond villains, he constantly walks away after "killing" the heroes, only to be surprised when they survive. In one scene, the good guys are in the SAME ROOM as him, reading from a mystic book that will strip his power, and he doesn't even notice! On top of all this, his facial expressions (very important since he speaks only ancient Egyptian) are terrible -- when he's not roaring (during which his face is entirely animated by the guys at ILM), his expressions range from "mildly constipated" to "what's that smell?"

Exhibit C: the Jokes
The reason that the humor works in the Indiana Jones series (I compare this film to the Jones trilogy because those films have themes and characters closest to those in the Mummy) is because the jokes come at appropriate times. When the stakes are high (say, when the Ark of the Covenant is being opened, or someone's heart is being ripped out) there are no jokes. Not a one. Not until after the danger has passed. Maybe Indy makes a funny face when trying to hang onto the Nazi tank, but that is all. In the Mummy, characters are constantly making jokes (and bad ones, at that), even when fiery death is raining down on all of Egypt and an evil being who can turn himself into a desert twister is about to kill the heroine so he can raise all his old buddies from the dead. Comedy is about timing, and the writers/director of this film have none.

Exhibit D: the Special Effects
I love the boys at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) -- I really do. They have made special effects movies what they are. So why, when Imhotep roars, am I immediately reminded of Jim Carey in the Mask? The Mask wasn't scary. And neither are about half of these effects. Sure, the flesh-eating scarabs are VERY creepy and the locusts and meteors look great, but the bad guy is a cartoon! A cartoon! A CARTOON! I never thought I'd be the one to shout "effects overkill," but I am doing it here. There just wasn't enough substance in this film to act as a framework for this many special effects.

Exhibit E: the Director
All of the previous exhibits bring us to this. Stephen Sommers wrote and directed this film, and so he is to blame. Is this a funny movie that is sometimes scary? A scary movie with bits of humor? Just a big budget excuse provide demo reels for the unknown supporting cast? If Sommers had picked one and just run with it, this might have been a good movie.

In all, the Mummy is a huge disappointment. Fraser does his best and manages to make a thin character likable, but the rest of the film, from the script to the characters to the effects, falls short. The characters don't even care if they live or die, which makes it very hard for the audience to care about anything in the film. Go see a matinee if you've got a few spare bucks, an afternoon free, and can turn your brain off for a few hours. Better yet, stay home and rent Raiders of the Lost Ark.

You'll be glad you did.


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