The Mummy (1999) / Horror-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for pervasive violence, scary images and some partial nudity
Running time: 125 min.

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J. O'Connor, Oded Fehr, Jonathan Hyde, Erick Avari, Bernard Fox, Patricia Velasquez, Aharon Ipale
Director: Stephen Sommers

Screenplay: Stephen Sommers
Review published August 2, 2008

A barely recognizable remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic, 1999's The Mummy tells the tale of the Ancient Egyptian high priest, Imhotep (Vosloo, Agent Cody Banks), who made the fatal error of engaging in an affair with the Pharaoh's mistress (Velasquez, Mindhunters).  In his jealousy and fear, Imhotep goes so far as to murder the Egyptian leader, an act that was punished most severely by burying Imhotep alive for a fate of eternal torment.  That is until the 1920s, when a group of archeologists and treasure hunters headed by the rip-roaring French Foreign Legionnaire Rick O'Connell (Fraser, Blast from the Past) , British librarian (now working in Cairo) Evelyn Carnahan (Weisz, Chain Reaction), and her smarmy brother Jonathan (Hannah, Sliding Doors), happen upon the site of legend, the lost city of Hamunaptra.  They soon discover riches unimaginable, but with those riches come a curse most deadly, awakening the murderous ancient figure, now possessing the power of a god, to no good end. 

The Mummy is a cheesy action-adventure-horror-comedy hybrid that seeks only to entertain for the moment without committing the mortal sin of making you think.  It's a series of constant distractions, some amusing, some horrific, which writer-director Stephen Sommers (Van Helsing, Deep Rising) delivers at a level where it should have no problem appealing to younger viewers who can handle a few gory moments.  It's a popcorn movie through and through, and I suppose if you're looking for lots of action and special effects without any overhead, it will fit the bill.  Anyone looking for the next Raiders of the Lost Ark will be sorely disappointed, as this Indiana Jones wannabe is too bland in story and inauthentic in its grasp of history to ever become something we'd ever get truly caught up in.

The best thing one can say about it is that it at least succeeds in keeping its head above water until the very end, and even if all of its sound and fury rings hollow, it holds the attention in its own juvenile-minded fashion.  This is partially due to the work of Sommers, who never for a moment takes his adventure or any of this characters seriously, coating the entire production with a wafer-thin premise that knows its place as something to deliver thrills, chills, and plenty of nasty kills, and does it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. 

More effort is put forth into the look of the film than in every other aspect, and I suspect that viewers prone to being mindlessly entertained by sparkling lights and whirring sounds will be mollified by the many scenes of bombastic flash and sizzle.  Even if the film falls short of representing a realistic depiction of Egypt, whether in ancient times or in the 1920s, the level of detail in the art, sets, and cinematography still impress in just a purely aesthetical fashion.  The fight scenes between the real-life actors and wholly CGI villains are the one truly magnificent aspect though, as the vile creatures pounce, grab and wrestle in seamless fashion with the actual environs. The scarab beetles are definitely the most menacing of the creatures, rendered magnificently, and when you see Imhotep's face appear in a giant sandstorm, Sommers actually does manage to approach that sense of awe that could have worked a certain magic if the rest of the film had built up any manner of tension.  Even so, the costumes still look like costumes, the sets like sets, and the many accents sound inauthentic, to the point where The Mummy gives the vibe of people playing dress up and making a movie based on what they think a North African treasure hunt must be like based on old movies rather than in trying to represent anything akin to reality.

However, even as the special effects take over and the art and set design dazzle, The Mummy is about as animated as its real-life namesake, a lifelike relic that has been dead and buried since Boris Karloff found himself in a tomb of his own.  At least Fraser manages to be completely in tune with the kind of film he's been hired to star in, mocking whatever he sees as if none of it really matters -- and it doesn't.  Though creepy and more than a little gross at times, it's not scary, and though the adventure is sweeping, we're never quite swept along with it.  That it succeeds in capturing the essence of the hokey adventure and horror films of the 1930s, I'll grant you, so long as you grant me the fact that its source material isn't exactly quality filmmaking either.  Raiders of the Lost Ark turned cheesy old Hollywood serials and made an adventure masterpiece; The Mummy takes cheesy old Hollywood b-movies and makes a cheesy new Hollywood b-movie.  Just like a real mummy, the body of a good film is here, but someone removed the vital organs -- specifically the heart and brains.

-- Followed by The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), and two spin-off prequels to the series, The Scorpion King (2002) and a straight-to-video release, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008) .  Also made into a television cartoon series, "The Mummy: The Animated Series" in 2001.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2000, 2008 Vince Leo