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THE MUMMY

by: Scott Renshaw

I am reminded of a favorite line from the Coen brothers' 1991 film BARTON FINK in this era of the wildly over-produced blockbuster. Barton Fink, an intellectual writer who has come to Hollywood in the early 1940s, reports to his studio boss that he's having trouble getting started on his first assignment, a wrestling film starring Wallace Beery. The baffled mogul responds, "Wallace Beery, wrestling picture...what do you need, a road map?" When it comes to genre film-making, there's an easy way to get the audience to respond the way you want them to respond, and there's the way writer/director Stephen Sommers chooses to craft his remake of THE MUMMY. Rarely has a film exterted so much narrative effort to say so little.

That narrative begins in 1719 B.C., where the Egyptian high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), after an affair with the Pharaoh's mistress, is buried alive to carry a curse on the world should he ever be awakened. Flash forward to 1923, where soldier of fortune Nick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) discovers the lost city of Hamunaptra, legendary site of untold treasure and -- unbeknownst to anyone -- Imhotep's tomb. Flash forward again three years, where Egyptologist/librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and her ne'er-do-well brother Jonathan (John Hannah) learn that the jailed O'Connell knows the location of Hamunaptra, and win his freedom in exchange for his aid. Thus begins a journey to the lost city which results in the release of Imhotep, who emerges into the 20th century with a mission, an attitude and a whole lot of nasty supernatural powers.

Unlike the 1932 original, this version is more action-adventure than horror, focusing on derring-do over scaring-do. It certainly delivers its share of fight sequences; some of them are even fairly rousing, combining unique visual effects with narrow escapes and a dose of visual humor. The echoes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK are obvious, but THE MUMMY may actually owe an equal debt to Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS in its attempts at supernatural slapstick. Though nowhere near the level of the "Indiana Jones" films -- and indeed, not even necessarily at the level of ARMY OF DARKNESS -- THE MUMMY at times manages to deliver the goods.

The goals of a film like THE MUMMY should be fairly simple, yet Sommers manages to miss the point entirely over and over again. The plot summary above doesn't do remote justice to the sacks of exposition, extraneous plot threads and go-nowhere characters with which THE MUMMY is burdened. The film takes forever to set up the premise, with the exploration party finally reaching Hamunaptra at about the one hour mark. Unnecessary complications ensue with the inclusion of a rival team of explorers guided by a sniveling former colleague of O'Connell's (Kevin J. O'Connor), increasing the body count in the least efficient manner possible. The danger to Evelyn -- targeted by Imhotep as part of his plan to resurrect his former love -- is buried beneath the ten plagues of Egypt, which Imhotep conveniently controls to allow for some more cool special effects. There's no economy to THE MUMMY, no understanding of how to create a solid hero, a solid villain and a solid conflict and let the action roll.

It would be easy enough to snipe at the dopey dialogue and silly performances in THE MUMMY -- I'm still waiting for someone to convince me that Brendan Fraser has leading-man charm -- especially since it would deserve every snipe. There are a few clever touches, but mostly Sommers seems to show the typical blockbuster disdain for characters and situations which do anything more than set up the next effects shot. Yet such complaints miss the point that THE MUMMY isn't even a good brainless action film with its lumbering pacing. All the jaw-dropping visual trickery in the world doesn't help if a film wanders around in circles before pulling out its "A" material. Groan if you must, bu

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