Brendan Fraser in "The Mummy"
True to form, the first official movie of summer 1999 is a bust. "The Mummy" is heavy on formula and ripe with cliches, a big-budget stinker that is sure to rake in an offensive $30 million in its opening weekend.
The first few minutes are gloriously misleading: ancient Egypt, looking sun-washed and exotic; a passionate love between a high priest and his fecund woman; and a romantic tragedy resulting in a grisly death involving mummy wrapping and flesh-eating scarabs. Very cool. The action quickly flashes forward to the mid-1920s, and the movie quickly loses steam and credibility.
Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) is a swashbuckling Foreign Legion soldier who somewhat unwittingly stumbles upon the key elements of the film. The first is Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead, where an underground treasure is rumored to be buried. Along with it, naturally, is the mummy himself, a gnarly creature formerly known as Imhotep, the high priest of Osiris (Arnold Vosloo). Next is Evelyn Carnarvon (Rachel Weisz), a spunky and attractive Egyptian scholar whose interest in the treasure and its history borders on obsession. And don't forget those dang Americans, a bunch of rowdy, tobacco-chewing treasure seekers who are already spending the loot.
I'll continue, but you're well acquainted with the formula: The group mistakenly unleashes the fury of the gods and, in turn, the mummy, who responds in predictable rampage fashion. Typical monster stuff, casting a series of plagues on the intruders, gathering the locals as hypnotic slaves and annihilating everyone in sight. B-O-R-I-N-G.
And that's just the big picture. Every character involved is a caricature of a character. The heroine is a bumbling beauty, the locals are sinister, fez-topped villains and the Americans are idiotic cowboys. All the desert-adventure cliches are firmly in place, including camel chases and sinister sand storms. Weisz possesses a luminescent beauty and Vasloo a commanding screen presence, but Fraser checks in with his first truly bad film portrayal.
The script borders on the ridiculous ("Oh my god, it's a sarcophagus buried at the base of Annubis"), and a droning voice-over spouts silly adventure platitudes like "a plague on mankind" and "the power of invincibility." Grudging respect is due for some effective man-eating scarab moments, achieved with the aid of computers. But the mummy himself is a big disappointment, a mass of fossilized plankton bearing no resemblance to the traditional rag-wrapped evil.
Big bucks, big waste of time. All this inspired was a future project fantasy: "The Ten Commandments" meets "The Mummy," starring Boris Karloff, directed by James Cameron, with Cecil B. de Mille heading up computer graphics.
Rated PG-13 for partial nudity and intense adventure violence. 2 hours, 5 minutes.
- Jeanne Aufmuth