Film Reviews

THE MUMMY RETURNS

By • May 4th, 2001 •

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Rated PG-13

Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron” describes a society where equality has finally been achieved-by making everyone and everything as stupid and ugly as possible. One particular device used to dumb people down is oversized headphones that those with above-average intelligence are forced to wear. Loud, mind-scrambling sounds are blasted into the person’s ears every 30 seconds or so, effectively preventing them from forming coherent thoughts (which would give them an advantage over the rest of the population).

Watching The Mummy Returns is a similar if altogether more pleasant experience than having Vonnegut’s headphones strapped to your head. Writer/director Stephen Sommers seems determined not to let more than five minutes of film time go by without a spectacular CGI special effect, a gun battle, a hand-to-hand fight, a chase or, better yet, all four at once.

Some of the hair’s-breadth escapes are certainly thrilling, and there are some lovely sequences aboard a ramshackle dirigible that sails through an impossibly starry night sky. Watching the movie itself is kind of fun-the way riding an amusement park thrill ride is fun. A few hours later, however, the movie has melted like cotton candy. The original Mummy (or rather, the original of this version, released in 1999), seems more vivid to me than the sequel I saw only a few days ago. (The real black-and-white original-directed by ace cinematographer Karl Freund, with Boris Karloff as the mummy-is in a class by itself.)

Mummy II unravels despite-or perhaps because of-the fact that it brings back practically the entire cast of the first film, including Brendan Fraser as adventurer/soldier of fortune Rick O’Connell, Rachel Weisz as his wife, John Hannah as Weisz’ cowardly brother, Arnold Vosloo as the titular mummy, and Oded Fehr as a mysterious good guy. New players include Fraser and Weisz’ annoying, know-it-all offspring (Freddie Boath), and wrestling phenom The Rock as The Scorpion King.

The Rock, by the way, has a great body and a great glare and that’s about all he needs, especially when he reappears near the film’s end looking like one of the smoothed-out animated characters from Shrek. It’s not enough that Mummy Returns plays like a video game-here it looks like one too. And word is The Scorpion King will star in his very own spinoff-sequel, which will no doubt feel like a video game that you play while actually on a thrill ride rollercoaster (Experience the STING of THE SCORPION KING!)

It’s too bad Mummy Returns leans so heavily on special effects, chases and fights, because the first one had a lot of charm. It substituted the creepiness and dread of classic mummy films (which weren’t usually that creepy, though some were dreadful) for an anything-goes, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style slapdash approach. Brendan Fraser-who has proven his ability to give even the silliest bits of fluff at least a few ounces of humor and humanity-had just the right air of irony in the first film, putting his action-heroics in quotes that let us enjoy them even more.

It’s also too bad that millions more people will see Fraser in this movie than in his recently released, and unjustifiably ignored, Monkeybone. That was loaded with cartoony special effects as well, but they didn’t overwhelm the film’s sweetly silly story nor its raucous, raunchy humor. Check out Monkeybone on video to see one of the best comedies of the year so far.

In Mummy Returns, Fraser is not only saddled with fatherhood but with a subplot about finding his destiny as a Medjai (a band of mystical warriors who fight evil). Oh yes, the quotes/homages/steals (pick your term) are from all over, from Star Wars and Raiders to The Wizard of Oz, Gremlins, Road Runner cartoons and every picture Ray Harryhausen ever worked on. There’s even some female-on-female fighting, between Weisz and witchy Patricia Velasquez, as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but without that film’s style or mythic overtones.

The New York Times review of this picture said it’s for nine-year-old boys, or the nine-year-old boy in all of us (it didn’t sound as corny in A.O. Scott’s review). All I can say is that if this represents nine-year-olds’ attention span, it’s no wonder parents are reaching for the Ritalin.


Credits:
Written and directed by Stephen Sommers

Cast:
Brendan Fraser,
Rachel Weisz,
Arnold Vosloo,
Oded Fehr,
Patricia Velasquez

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