The Mummy Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

What's the challenge?
Rescue the damsel in distress, kill the bad guys, save the world.
The Mummy logo

Closer in tone to the cheeky irreverence of Sam Raimi's "Army of Darkness" or "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" than to the genuine horror trappings of the Universal franchise from the Thirties and Forties, "The Mummy" is not quite the suspense-filled scary movie you would expect. This big-budget tentpole production, which is the first entrant in the 1999 summer movie season, sits uneasily in the middle of the road, possessing few genuine thrills and chills for the horror crowd while lacking the razor-sharp wit that would propel it into cult-status.

What do you think is out there?
In a word... evil.
Arnold Vosloo and Patricia Velasquez

In 1719 B.C., the High Priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo of "Hard Target") is caught having an affair with Anck-Su-Namun, the Pharaoh's mistress (Patricia Velasquez), a disclosure that results in the murder of the Pharaoh and Anck-Su-Namun taking her own life. In a desperate attempt to reclaim his lost love, Imhotep attempts to bring Anck-Su-Namun back to life with an unholy spell. However, soldiers loyal to the late Pharaoh arrest him before he can complete the ceremony, and they inflict a punishment worse than death-- for his unholy treachery, he is to be buried alive and spend the rest of eternity as an undead mummified corpse, buried in Hamunaptra, the so-called City of the Dead.

You were at Hamunaptra?
You swear?
I didn't mean that.
Brendan Fraser

Zooming ahead to the 1920s, American legionnaire Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser of "Blast from the Past") and his treacherous sidekick Beni (Kevin J. O'Connor of "Amistad") stumble onto Imhotep's final resting place during a savage battle. However, Rick senses the great evil emanating from underneath the sand, and wisely hurries back to civilization. Three years later, Rick finds himself rotting on death row in a Cairo jail for 'having a good time'. However, he winds up having his life spared by a couple of British siblings who need his knowledge to find the archeological wonders buried at Hamunaptra.

I've never seen a mummy like this before... so... so...

Joining forces with the comely-yet-clumsy Evelyn (Rachel Weisz of "Swept from the Sea" and "Chain Reaction") and her scoundrel of a brother, Jonathan (John Hannah of "Sliding Doors"), Rick ventures out towards the City of the Dead. However, they are not alone in their quest, as Rick learns that his old pal Beni is leading a group of American treasure hunters on a competing expedition to Hamunaptra. Unfortunately, these treasure-seeking rivals are the least of the trio's worries after Imhotep is inadvertently released from his sarcophagus and begins unleashing his unholy powers upon an unsuspecting world. Pretty soon, clouds of locusts are everywhere, balls of fire fall from the sky, and the sun is shrouded in darkness-- basically the worst parts of the Bible.

This Creature is the bringer of death. It will never eat, never sleep, or be stopped.

"The Mummy" never really seems to ever take itself seriously. Behind the attempts to be a film of epic proportions, with its grandiose opening in ancient Egypt and several set pieces involving hundreds of extras, "The Mummy" is a hokey-and-jokey effort full of irreverent and cliché-defiling humor. The character of Rick O'Connell takes a postmodern swipe at 'Indiana Jones'-style derring-do, and his battles with the film's numerous villains are fun to watch because of the often-comical tone about them. And though Fraser's portrayal of the dashing hero calls to mind the goofy-arrogance of the Ash character in "Army of Darkness", he falls short on the deadpan and smirky delivery that made Bruce Campbell a cult-hero. This is partially due to the script's lack of really good one-line zingers, which is indicative of the humor of the film in general-- it's amusing, but it won't having your rolling on the floor.

Sorry to scare you.
The only thing that scares me is your manners.

In addition, because of the film's campy tone, "The Mummy" never really becomes frightening or suspenseful. Unfortunately for horror purists, the cartoonish violence and plotting rob the film of its sense of urgency, and it plays out more like a big-budget episode of "Xena: The Warrior Princess". In fact, this is the same problem that hampered writer/director Stephen Sommers' previous effort, "Deep Rising". His forgettable "Aliens"-meets-"Titanic" monster movie suffered from the same lack of suspense or thrills, which was exacerbated by the unfunny script. This time around, though, "The Mummy" at least has enough laughs keep things somewhat interesting.

Why did you kiss me?
Well, I was about to be hanged, and it seemed to be a good idea at the time.
John Hannah, Rachel Weisz, and Fraser

In addition to the lack of any suspense, the script takes its sweet time to set up the story, padding the film's first act with scenes that either go on too long or should have been cut out entirely for slowing down the story. As a result, it isn't until well into the second hour that the film's namesake starts walking around and the narrative finally picks up some momentum. In addition, Sommers' bloated script juggles an increasing number of plot devices, inconsequential throwaway characters, and bouts of hyperbolic exposition as it unwinds, adding layers of distraction to an otherwise simple story. Sometimes less is more.

You must leave this place, or die.

Effects-wise, "The Mummy" does a decent job in bringing the film's numerous supernatural happenings to life, including carpets of flesh-eating scarab beetles, balls of fire, destructive sandstorms, and legions of sword-swinging undead. And while the use of computer graphics is polished, it never reaches the level of creating any truly awe-inspiring 'gee whiz' moments.

I only gamble with my life, and not my money!

If you're in the mood for a popcorn movie with a goofy-grin sense of fun, "The Mummy" just might be enough to satisfy. I admit, I walked into the theater with low expectations, and found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would. However, I did find numerous areas where I found myself impatiently glancing at my watch, wishing that it would pick up the pace. On the one hand, "The Mummy" has some problems, yet on the other, its silly sense of fun makes it more watchable than it should. Overall, middle-of-the-road.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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