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The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Review – A Movie That Should Have Been Left Buried Beneath the Sands

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Review – A Movie That Should Have Been Left Buried Beneath the Sands” width=”560″/>

How do you kill a mummy? Burning oil? Silver bullets? Decapitation? Hit it with a 2″x4″ until it crumbles into dust? No, seriously, I want to know because someone needs to kill this one before it destroys Brendan Fraser’s career. The mummy in question first came to life in 1999 in a movie named, appropriately enough, The Mummy which was a decent enough time-waster that mixed cut rate Indiana Jones shenanigans with nonstop action hijinks done up in Egyptian drag. Then it was resurrected in The Mummy Returns (2001) with an even bigger budget and enough jokes and well-staged action to make it the epitome of a the brainless, summer action adventure blockbuster. But seven years later, Stephen Sommers (the series’ original mastermind) has been replaced by the dark wizard of hackdom, Rob Cohen ( The Fast and the Furious ). Cohen is an accomplished necromancer (or rather, necrophiliac) whose dream project was to make a martial arts film with a CGI-generated Bruce Lee who would appear as a ghostly Yoda-type teaching a white kid the true path of the warrior. Fortunately, Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda Lee, came to her senses and withdrew her support for the project, driving a stake through its heart, hopefully, killing it once and for all. But who can stop Rob Cohen’s mad plan to destroy Brendan Fraser’s career with this new movie? Is it in the hands of the movie-going public to refuse to buy a ticket for this shambolic mess and bury it beneath the sands of failure, there to lie dormant for thousands of years?

Packed with actors who should know better, The Mummy 3 starts
in a ticky tacky Ancient China with Jet Li playing an evil emperor who
wants the secret to immortal life. (Yeah, yeah — don’t we all?) A witch
(Michelle Yeoh) grants him eternal life, but curses him, turning him
into a big pile of liquid. Cut to 1946, when Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and wife,
Evelyn (played by Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz who knew better),
are enjoying their retirement from adventure. Thanks to some broad,
poorly staged comedy schtick, we quickly realize that their lack of
adventuring has had a negative impact on their sex lives. Fortunately,
their son, Alex (Luke Ford), is adventuring in China and he discovers
the tomb of Jet Li and a plot by some evil Chinamen to reheat the
Dragon Emperor, so the whole O’Connell family has to go on an adventure.

The whole rebellious-son-of-adventuring-archeologist thing was already run into the ground earlier this summer by Indiana Jones 4,
but Alex O’Connell turns out to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand,
he does inspire his parents to have sex again by giving them an
opportunity to fight mummies. On the other hand, Luke Ford is one of
the most obnoxious actors ever to strut across the silver screen and
watching him is like having scalding sand rubbed into your eyes.
Michelle Yeoh mouths her dialogue just fine, but she doesn’t get a
chance to do much but appear regal, and Isabella Leong, Hong Kong’s bad
girl, who plays the witch’s daughter, demonstrates that she’s capable
of doing far better work than you see here. Jet Li barely appears in
the film, and as for Maria Bello — let’s just say that she’s no Rachel
Weisz.

But what about poor Brendan Fraser? He’s one of cinema’s
great untapped resources, and his ability to act convincingly opposite
digital effects is not to be underestimated. He can do Serious Thesping
in flicks like Gods and Monsters and The Quiet American
but he’s also capable of being an affable doofus and a likeable action
hero. He was born of Canadians, he speaks fluent French and rumor has
it that he is entrusted with keeping safe the last remaining unicorn.
It’s his jaunty charm and ability to simultaneously perform feats of
derring-do while commenting on them ironically that gave the Mummy franchise its lighter-than-air charm in the first place, so how difficult must it have been to squander him so totally in The Mummy 3?
He’s an actor who can really go to town like a giant, berserk weasel if
he’s working with a director who wants him to succeed rather than a
director who is actively trying to destroy his career. Rob Cohen, of
course, is not able to destroy Brendan Fraser’s career — this is,
after all, the actor who was cast in both Encino Man and Dudley Do-Right and
lived to tell the tale. But in the process, Rob Cohen manages to
eliminate all traces of fun from this movie. What remains is a
lifeless, lumbering mess and while that may accurately describe a
mummy, it’s not a description of a good movie. Or even a movie you
might want to see just to enjoy the air conditioning and popcorn.

Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.

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