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"THE MUMMY RETURNS"
(2001) (Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Adventure/Horror: Eight years after dealing with the supernatural release of a deadly mummy, a legionnaire and his Egyptologist wife find themselves trying to stop that mummy, his lover, and various others from gaining control of an army of the dead that could rule the world.
PLOT:
Eight years after American legionnaire Rick O'Connell (BRENDAN FRASER) and his British companions, librarian/Egyptologist Evelyn (RACHEL WEISZ) and her brother, Jonathan (JOHN HANNAH), defeated the forces of Imhotep (ARNOLD VOSLOO), a former high priestess turned mummy who was accidentally resurrected during a dig, Rick and Evelyn are still exploring ancient Egyptian ruins, despite now being married and having an eight-year-old son, Alex (FREDDIE BOATH).

While doing so, they discover a large, scorpion-shaped gold bracelet that once belonged to the Scorpion King (THE ROCK), a warrior from long ago who traded his soul to a god in exchange for military victory, but has since been frozen in time, along with his invincible army of the dead. Returning to their London home, the O'Connells learn that others are interested in the bracelet as well, including the Curator of the British Museum (ALUN ARMSTRONG), as well as Lock-Nah (ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE) and Meela (PATRICIA VELASQUEZ) who's a spitting image of Imhotep's former lover, Anck-Su-Namun.

They're eager to retrieve the bracelet and resurrect Imhotep, who they've recently unearthed and believe to be the only being who could defeat the Scorpion King - who will now be released in seven days -- and thus gain control of his army of the dead. Accompanied by Ardeth Bay (ODED FEHR), the leader of the Medjai who are sworn to protect the sacred burial grounds, and Izzy (SHAUN PARKES), a zany dirigible pilot, Rick, Evelyn and Jonathan set out to stop Imhotep -- who wants to resurrect Anck-Su-Namun into Meela's body -- and the rest of the villains, who've now kidnapped Alex, before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Like many other movie monsters before him, the Mummy has returned in the appropriately but unimaginatively titled, "The Mummy Returns," and adds further proof that almost any film that makes a decent amount of money will spawn a sequel. Of course, it doesn't hurt that 1999's "The Mummy" - itself an updated remake of sort of scores of previous mummy films -- earned more than $400 million worldwide.

Filling the void left by the absence of such cinematic characters and the near decade long absence of the Indiana Jones films and their high adventure, cliffhanger brand of entertainment, the film kicked off a highly profitable summer movie season and made an action star out of lead actor Brendan Fraser.

That's not to say, however, that it was very good. Sure, it had some fun special effects and certainly filled the bill as an escapist offering. Yet, more attention was obviously paid to the effects and action rather than the story or characters, both of which were saddled with clichés and "borrowed" far too heavily from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The result was an often inane and mindless but somewhat fun summer flick.

Following the rule that sequels must recycle and retread material from the original - but in a bigger, louder and flashier fashion -- writer/director Stephen Sommers ("Deep Rising," "The Jungle Book"), who reprises his dual role from the original film, delivers the subpar "The Mummy Returns." If neither the original film nor the three Indiana Jones pictures previously existed, this film's offerings might have been forgivable and maybe even somewhat more readily accepted.

That, of course, isn't the case, and unless one can completely turn off the cognitive side of their brain and experience the film solely from their primitive reflex response, they're likely to view this as something that approaches the brawn over brains summer debacle last witnessed in "Wild Wild West."

Borrowing heavily once again from the Indy films - most notably "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" this time around - as well as blatantly and oddly from the original "Mummy" film, Sommers seemingly watched them while making this picture, randomly picking elements from both to fill up time, apparently only intent on making the sequel grandiose rather than original, let alone intelligent.

Accordingly, we're treated to more of the "same old, same old" including a prologue that sets up another villain to be resurrected somewhere down the line, more beetles visibly moving under a victim's skin when not scurrying along the ground, and a wall of water - complete with the monstrous image of the mummy's face in it -- that pursues the airborne hero (versus the similar sandstorm that did the same in the first film).

From the Indy movies, we have the group of mysterious warriors whose duty is to protect some sacred elements, a character who receives a belly wound and can only be saved by supernatural means, and the general gist and overall aura of those highly entertaining films from Mr. Spielberg. Other elements from those films and others are pillaged so much that the feeling of "déjà vu" will become worn out from overuse.

Then there's the stupid material such as a tribe of lethal pygmy skeletons, a partially jet-powered dirigible (in 1933, no less), and a scene where some characters race to enter the base of a tall pyramid before the rising sun's rays hit the structure. Of course, little do they, or apparently the director, realize that the sun would obviously strike the top of the pyramid first, rather than the other way around which is how it plays out here.

In essence, that's what's wrong with the picture. While Sommers and his team certainly keep things lively enough through nearly nonstop action, mayhem and simultaneously occurring fight sequences, the fact that most of the material is dumb, often ridiculous and don't engage us on a character or story level keeps the film from approaching the quality of those Indy pictures. The writer/director has certainly fallen into the "bigger is better" trap, and while a lot of cash obviously went into the special effects, some of them nevertheless look fake and/or don't seamlessly mesh with the live action footage.

They certainly don't make up for the lack of a decent story that, in this case, simply recycles most of the original film with only a few new elements thrown in. Among them is the addition of a son to the film's now married leading couple, and various reincarnation-based visions that lead to a silly revelation. Neither element does much for the proceedings, although the kid's irritating behavior is obviously designed to elicit laughs from the audience.

For good or bad, most of the original cast returns, including Brendan Fraser ("Monkeybone," "Bedazzled") and Rachel Weisz ("Enemy at the Gates," "Beautiful Creatures") as that couple. Despite the weak script, Fraser is engaging like before, doing a decent job mixing humor and physicality, but he clearly doesn't have that Harrison Ford aura to make the character even halfway as interesting, engaging or memorable.

Transformed from a meek and mousy librarian to a street fighter Egyptologist, Weisz's character shows the most growth from the original film. While fun to behold during her many fight scenes, it feels like her character's sudden and unexplained toughness and fighting savvy are more of a studio ploy - in the wake of such strong female characters in films like "Charlie's Angels" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - than a natural character evolution.

Arnold Vosloo ("The Mummy") returns as the title character, but once back in complete human form, isn't terribly menacing or interesting, as was the case and problem in the first film. As a matter of fact, for a film supposedly about mummies and with that name in its title, there's a noticeable shortage of them here. Patricia Velasquez ("Committed," "Turn it Up") gets an expanded role by returning as Imhotep's lover, but while her character is a worthy opponent to Weisz's, her performance is otherwise unremarkable.

John Hannah ("Sliding Doors," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") is once again wasted in the comic relief role, Freddie Boath (making his debut) is okay if a bit annoying after a while as the eight-year-old boy, and Oded Fehr ("Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," "The Mummy") is competent again as the still mysterious, but underdeveloped role of Ardeth Bay.

The biggest disappointment, however, at least to his WWF fans, is the screen debut of pro wrestler turned actor, The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson. Although he has few lines, the actor has a Schwarzenegger type presence in the opening prologue, and the film builds up the hype about the big showdown between his and Vosloo's characters. Unfortunately, once that finally occurs very late in this overlong, two-hour plus film, it's a huge disappointment as The Rock is reduced to only the top half of a computer-generated, scorpion-based centaur.

While the effect - like much of the film - might look cool to pre and early adolescent boys and remind some of us older viewers of our childhoods watching the work of Ray Harryhausen, the scene reeks of special effects excess, and will no doubt remind many viewers of the same occurring in the similarly overblown "Wild Wild West."

While the film gets some credit for remaining somewhat interesting from a visual and action standpoint - even if both aren't as good as they might have been - it loses points for being dumb and recycling too many bits from its predecessor and the far superior Indiana Jones pictures. Proving once again that Hollywood hasn't forgotten how to make mindless, summer spectacles, "The Mummy Returns" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed May 1, 2001 / Posted May 4, 2001


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