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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Movie Review: The Mummy Gets Resurrected in a Middling Reboot

Posted by on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 4:55 PM

click to enlarge Sofia Boutella as the evil Princess Ahmanet - COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Courtesy of Universal Pictures
  • Sofia Boutella as the evil Princess Ahmanet
The Mummy
★★ ½ stars
Now playing

At some point in the past twenty years, Tom Cruise transcended personhood as we know it to become a kind of media-age hybrid of human being and Hollywood brand. Surely the most extreme show business construct ever assembled, Cruise is like a piece of brilliantly optimized cinematic firmware. Put him in front of a camera, and he performs with maximum efficiency, deploying customized hard-coded subroutines like the Roguish Grin, the Steely Squint, and the inevitable Shirtless Scene.

As a movie star, he's entirely effective and reliable without actually seeming particularly human. Maybe that's what Scientology gets you, when you ascend to the Plateau of Zerg or whatever. Anyway, Cruise's increasingly creepy uncanny valley thing is the biggest impediment to this week's summer movie entrant The Mummy, an otherwise serviceable creature feature and reboot of the Brendan Fraser franchise.

Rethinking the story premise from the ground up—underneath the ground, actually—co-writer and director Alex Kurtzman stages a pair of thrilling opening sequences in which vast underground tombs are discovered beneath London and Iraq.

In the Iraqi ruins, U.S. military personnel find an ancient well filled with liquid mercury. Suspended in the liquid metal is an elaborate sarcophagus containing, yes, a mummy. Subsequent developments and flashbacks reveal that the august personage within is no less than Ahmanet, an evil Egyptian princess so malevolent that she was erased from the history books.

It seems that many thousands of years ago, Ahmanet cut a deal with Set, the Egyptian god of death, giving her infernal powers so deadly that she had to be encased in liquid metal and an elaborate web of mystical wards. The weird thing is that the tomb is in Mesopotamia, not Egypt, and matching artifacts are popping up in London. What's happening?

Personally, I love this kind of pulpy nonsense, and The Mummy's mummy is easily the coolest mummy in the history of mummy movies. Portrayed by Algerian actress and dancer Sofia Boutella, Ahmanet moves with a sinister grace and is covered head-to-toe with ideogram tattoos that disappear when she morphs into the more traditional zombie mode. In terms of creature design, Ahmanet is a superior villain.

Alas, she's pitted against Cruise as Nick Morton, a mercenary scoundrel who's only in the tomb raiding business for the money. There's some barely coherent business about Nick's quest for redemption, but it never really registers. Cruise doesn't act so much as he preens, always preserving his heroic image, and we're never really invested in Nick's fate. I kept imagining different actors in the role—Harrison Ford circa 1989, for instance—and wondering how much better the movie would be.

Speaking of, The Mummy is shamelessly derivative, with director Kurtzman ripping off signature bits from the Indiana Jones movies, George Romero's zombie flicks, The Exorcist, and even that superior undead adventure, An American Werewolf in London.

On the plus side, the film does have a handful of well-executed action set pieces, including a zero-gravity crash landing that was filmed aboard one of those infamous vomit comet aircraft. Keep an eye out for an underwater zombie chase and a freaky sandstorm in downtown London. Oh, and Russell Crowe drops in as Dr. Henry Jekyll—yes, that Dr. Jekyll. Try not to rile him up.

Entertaining but entirely disposable, The Mummy operates at the same general frequency as Cruise's other recent summer splashes, like Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, or whatever Mission: Impossible movie is in the queue. It's also the first film in Universal Pictures's new Dark Universe initiative, which hopes to resurrect more gods and monsters from the studio vaults, like Frankenstein and Wolfman, and compete with the Marvel and D.C. brands. I'd love to see that, but banking on Tom Cruise to carry any weight is a dubious decision. He'd make a good android, though.

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