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
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
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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