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The Mummy (Movie Review)

The Mummy (Movie Review)
06.10.2017by: Eric Walkuski
5 10

The Mummy Tom Cruise Russell Crowe Sofia Boutella movie review

PLOT: After disturbing the tomb of an evil Egyptian princess, a man finds himself cursed to be a vessel for Set, the god of chaos.

REVIEW: Universal's first attempt at relaunching their classic monsters series (Dark Universe, is what it's being called) is Alex Kurtzman's THE MUMMY, a messy, confusing, and only occasionally entertaining hodgepodge of action movie, horror movie and horror-comedy. With Tom Cruise leading the way as a surprisingly unappealing protagonist, the film constantly appears to be rewriting itself, adding on arbitrary rules to its central storyline while clumsily attempting to world-build for future sequels/spinoffs. (The fact that THE MUMMY has six credited screenwriters and three editors is not lost on you as you watch it.) Neither bad enough to be considered an unmitigated disaster nor good enough to leave any kind of lasting impression, this new MUMMY is about as inconsequential as you can get.

The Mummy Tom Cruise Russell Crowe Sofia Boutella movie review

Kurtzman's film is not exactly a remake of either previous Universal film title THE MUMMY - the 1932 B&W creeper starring Boris Karloff or the goofy 1999 adventure by Stephen Sommers - but it tells a familiar story of the resurrection of a mummified Egyptian, in this case, a princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and the dire consequences for the humans involved with her awakening. The main player is Nick Morton (Cruise) a selfish scoundrel who uses his job working reconnaissance for the army as a means to plunder priceless artifacts and treasures. Forcing an unwilling accomplice (Jake Johnson) on his schemes and destroying goodwill wherever he goes, Nick gets a comeuppance of sorts when Ahmanet sets her sights on him to be her "chosen one," a vessel that will eventually be inhabited by Set, the Egyptian god of war and chaos.

There's a whole lot of exposition going on throughout the film, so much so that we're actually more confused as things move along as opposed to enlightened. What we do know clearly is that Morton has been cursed by Ahmanet and cannot die, which gives her ample opportunity to capture and sacrifice him, although this turns out to be harder that you would think for an all-powerful goddess, as waves of sand, countless ambushes of mummies and other methods of attack consistently prove fruitless. The movie establishes a repetitive rhythm, wherein Nick and his female companion Jenny (Annabelle Wallis, exuding nothing but boredom) ask each other sober questions about the nature of their predicament both before and after making a daring getaway from Ahmanet's destructive assaults. There's a bejeweled dagger that has significance, but it's hard to suss out its exact powers because, if I'm not mistaken, they change at the whim of the movie.

Thrown into the mix to provide even more vague exposition is Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who heads a team of scientists and soldiers known as Prodigium, a group that tracks down supernatural threats in order to keep them hidden from the outside world. These portions of the movie feel wholly shoehorned in, obviously just there to set up this organization for future pictures. For reference, Jekyll indeed turns into Mr. Hyde at one point in the film, but the why of this is left unexplained. (Frankly, for no other reason than it's expected that the audience is familiar with the characters of Jekyll and Hyde, hence we must see him change.) What saves these scenes from total irrelevance is that Crowe is fairly amusing in both roles, at least chomping on the scenery enough to make us try and focus on what he's saying

Not having as easy of a time in his inherited role is Cruise, who the movie wants to make into something of a rakish SOB with a heart of gold. (think Han Solo, Peter Quill, etc. etc.) Problem is, the movie takes a very long time establishing anything noble about Nick; in fact, he's a genuine good-for-nothing throughout most of the running time. That would be an interesting choice if Cruise were able to sell it, but the actor never truly seems comfortable as Nick. The character is played for laughs most of the time, and while Cruise can certainly be funny under the right circumstances, Nick remains a disappointingly fumbled attempt at creating a likable anti-hero. That said, the actor can still convince you he's in the moment when it comes to action scenes, as he literally throws himself all over the screen from start to finish. That's just Cruise being Cruise, though.

The Mummy Tom Cruise Russell Crowe Sofia Boutella movie review

Cruise's uneasy performance is just one way in which the movie contains an aura of gracelessness. It never finds an agreeable balance between the action, horror, or comedic elements that are all fighting for our attention. By contrast, Stephen Sommers' '99 effort was much more capable at juggling its jaunty sense of humor with its creepier aspects. There are some horror sequences that work on a very basic level in Kurtzman's film; yes, obligatory jump scares run rampant, but a handful of scenes where Cruise is set upon by legions of shambling (at one point, swimming) mummies are moderately diverting. Problem is, almost every creature appears to have been created with computers instead of with practical effects, so they have no genuine scare value. (A scene involving an army of attacking rats is laughably unconvincing.) Boutella's Ahmanet is the only villain who is there there, and while quite an agreeable vision, neither the character nor the actress is given much to do outside of standing still while glaring sensually. (Dare I say even the evil Imhotep in Sommers' film had a more compelling backstory and character arc.) This being only his second stint at directing a feature, Kurtzman doesn't show much in the way of flair or inventiveness, with most sequences being shot with the same gloomy, blueish hue.

Running at 110 minutes (hey, at least it's under two hours), none of THE MUMMY is actively offensive or infuriating. While it often struggles with identifying its genre and sorting out the details of its plot, the movie clearly strives for an atmosphere of fun, and while not incredibly successful, it doesn't wear you down the way so many faux-blockbusters do. I think the right spirit is lurking in there, somewhere, but too many writers likely muddled the results (not to mention the studio's gratuitous need to set up an entire franchise of modern monster films just because they can). As for where this leaves Universal's proposed Dark Universe, it's anyone's guess. I'm not especially excited for what awaits if THE MUMMY is an indicator of things to come, although the series just has to go upwards from here.

Extra Tidbit: THE MUMMY opens on June 9th.

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