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by: Michael Dequina

The title of The Mummy Returns is about as truthful of one you're likely to find. More or less a wholesale recycling of the 1999 original, writer-director Stephen Sommers gives audiences exactly what they expect. For this non-fan of the first film, that's hardly a good thing.

If nothing else, even with a two-hour-plus running time, The Mummy Returns does move at a clip. Free from any requirement of exposition (with one fairly minor exception), the film plunges headlong into the continuing adventures of Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) without so much as a flash of a title card. Eight years, a wedding, and a scamp of a son (Alex, played by Freddie Boath) have not changed much of anything, for they are still rummaging through--and destroying--ancient Egyptian ruins as the film begins. It would only follow that such behavior would place the O'Connell trio, Evelyn's wimpy brother Jonathan (John Hannah), and ally Ardeth (Oded Fehr) back on a collision course with that deadly mummy of the title, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), who has been resurrected by the reincarnation of his beloved Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez). But this terrible twosome may pale in comparison to the deadly Scorpion King (played in the film's opening minutes--and only those minutes--by WWF superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and his armies, whom Imhotep must defeat to achieve world domination.

In short, it's business as usual in The Mummy Returns. The action sequences are more plentiful, and the effects as a whole are improved. That said, Sommers and his crew still haven't worked out some technical kinks from the first film, namely those pesky scarab beetles, which look as CG as ever. But this is less of a stand-alone movie than a pastiche of pieces from The Mummy, and on a rare occasion the lifting works; arguably the previous film's best effect, the sand head chasing the airplane, is redone more spectacularly as a water head--make that a wall of water with a head--chasing down a dirigible. More often, though, the bits borrowed are duds that never worked in the first place; case in point, the cutesy "Evelyn knocks over the bookcases" scene in the original is echoed when Alex knocks over a bunch of pillars.

If there's any change evident in The Mummy Returns, it's in the character of Evelyn. This Evelyn only shares a name and a portrayer, for the sexed-up woman warrior (complete with bosomy, low-cut blouses) is worlds apart from the nerdy, sub-Kate Capshaw whiner in the first film. But this step in the right direction is marred by an Sommers' pointlessly complex explanation for the character shift. It's not enough for her to have simply toughed up in the intervening years; no, Sommers slips in a needless bit of retroactive continuity that makes no sense in light of the previous film's depiction of Evelyn. Perhaps it's nitpicking to criticize a no-brainer flick like The Mummy Returns on the basis of characterization, but filmmakers should play fairly within the rules they set up for themselves.

I guess the one rule Sommers does hold true to is to make sure there's at least one annoying character in the mix, and to compensate for the changes in Evelyn, he throws in two. Seen fairly briefly but whose irksome qualities linger is the dirigible operator, an anti-comic sidekick in the Jar Jar Binks mold. Showcased a bit more (for lack of a better word) "generously" is Alex, who is less precocious and spunky than stubborn and bratty in the hands of Boath, a truly wretched child actor.

Sinking The Mummy Returns is the same fault that ruined The Mummy--an overly jokey tone that never once suggests real danger and therefore suspense, unlike the Indiana Jones films it so clearly emulates. There's a golden opportunity to serve up something of a real scare in a sequence where men standing in a tall grass field are picked off one by one by a mysterious, u


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