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"THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR"
(2008) (Brendan Fraser, Jet Li) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Adventure: A former archaeologist/tomb-raider, his novelist wife, their archaeologist son and others try to prevent a long-entombed Chinese emperor from resurrecting his powerful army.
PLOT:
It's post WWII and former archaeologist/tomb-raider Rick O'Connell (BRENDAN FRASER) and his wife, Evelyn (MARIA BELLO), have long given up digging up and dealing with mummies. But that hasn't prevented their adventurous 18-year-old son from following in his dad's footsteps.

Now on a dig in China, Alex (LUKE FORD) is working with Prof. Roger Wilson (DAVID CALDER) in hopes of finding long-entombed Emperor Han (JET LI) and his legendary terra-cotta army. Legend has it that Han once ruled the land but wanted to be immortal, and thus sent General Ming (RUSSELL WONG) to find a witch capable of delivering that for him. But when Ming ended up having an affair with Zi Juan (MICHELLE YEOH), Han killed his military commander and wounded Zi Juan, but not before she cast a spell on him and his army, turning all of them to stone.

But Alex and Roger aren't the only ones who want to find the long-buried emperor. Chinese Army General Yang (ANTHONY WONG CHAU-SANG), along with his assistant, Choi (JESSEY MENG), wants to resurrect Han to bring order to their chaotic world, and after Alex finds him, that plan is set into motion.

That ends up involving Rick and Evelyn, as well as her brother Jonathan Carnahan (JOHN HANNAH) who runs a nightclub in Shanghai, as well as longtime ally Mad Dog Maguire (LIAM CUNNINGHAM). With the aid of Zi Juan and her ninja daughter, Lin (ISABELLA LEONG), Rick and the others do what they can to prevent Han from resurrecting his army and thus ruling the world once more.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
At the beginning of 1984's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the future Mrs. Steven Spielberg appears as a nightclub singer who belts out Cole Porter's lively pre Dylanesque times-are-a-changing ode "Anything Goes." The song choice, of course, was symbolic for what would follow: An over-the-top roller coaster ride of an action/adventure flick designed to one-up the cliffhanger thrills of its predecessor.

Considering that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" obviously inspired those responsible for putting together 1999's "The Mummy," I guess it's only too appropriate that "Temple of Doom" -- or at least its anything goes mindset -- would serve as inspiration for "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."

The second sequel to the '99 flick -- the first being 2001's "The Mummy Returns" which borrowed most liberally from the third "Indy" film -- chronologically arrives more than a decade after the conclusion of the events in the second pic. Not only is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson missing (his character not making it to see the end credits roll), but so is co-star Rachel Weisz (replaced in the same character by a nearly unrecognizable Maria Bello in dark locks and 1940s era makeup), not to mention writer/director Stephen Sommers.

It's the latter's absence that's most conspicuous this time around. While Sommers was obviously no Spielberg in terms of helming the first two entries, they did possess a palpable degree of moderately entertaining, turn off your brain escapism featuring (hopefully purposefully) stiff acting and bad dialogue surrounded by lots of action and decent special effects.

Here, replacement director Rob Cohen (once showing so much promise with "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" before descending into dreck such as "The Fast and the Furious" and "Stealth") and writers Alfred Gough & Miles Millar obviously had Kate Capshaw doing Porter on the mind when they came up with this flick.

For truly anything does go as we not only have the obligatory mummy material (although such characters aren't exactly the real movie thing), but also Jet Li and related martial arts fighting, a shape-shifting character, magical powers, a general plot lifted from many a martial arts flick, and yes, even a bunch of yetis (a.k.a. abominable snowmen).

Throw in attempted comic relief (courtesy of John Hannah reprising that role from before), strained father-son dynamics, the post WWII Chinese army, an epic scale battle of the undead along the Great Wall, and lots of potential peril and adventure, and the film is obviously filled to the brim with loads of material.

Sadly, all of that seems to have overwhelmed Cohen as the film lacks the sort of focus and discipline needed to wrangle all of that into a cohesive and -- more importantly -- entertaining whole. Even returning and usually charismatic star Brendan Fraser appears lost or at least bored amongst all of the cinematic debris. While I've liked Bello in other roles, she pales in comparison to Weisz in the inherited part, and Luke Ford is about as flat and uninteresting as can be playing their adult son, a character obviously earmarked to take over subsequent "Mummy" flicks if/when Fraser decides to get back into making good films such as "Crash" and "Gods and Monsters."

Jet Li is pretty much relegated to being a special effect (and a boring one at that), the talented Michelle Yeoh is wasted as an immortal witch, and everyone else can't do much with their underwritten parts. Granted, these sorts of films aren't designed for intense character depth or exploration, and the plots are just loose skeletons upon which to arrange all of the action, stunts and such.

That's fine and dandy when the latter work, but such efforts here, along with the special effects, are simply too blasť when not both under and overdone to the point of repetitive boredom. Filled with the sort of slow motion action shots that usually signal unsuccessfully attempted fixes regarding subpar material, even the concluding action sequence at the end (where Fraser and Li's characters do battle) is botched.

The result is a pic and franchise that needs to be re-interred in the tombs of moviedom, not to be resurrected for centuries if not longer. "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed July 29, 2008 / Posted August 1, 2008


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