01 August 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

It must be nice to have $175 million to pump into a sequel for which there appeared to be no real demand.

That’s problem No. 1 for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Problem No. 2 is the choice of director: Rob Cohen, the man behind the Vin Diesel vehicles The Fast and the Furious (2001) and XXX (2002), and Stealth (2005)—a movie that still makes my head hurt when I think about it. He replaces Stephen Sommers, director of both The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001). (Sommers retains a producer credit here.)

Cohen has specialized in action movies, yet has little idea of how to shoot an action scene. In this movie, he has the services of Jet Li as the titular emperor, a ruthless man who conquered ancient China and enslaved his foes. His cast also includes Michelle Yeoh as the witch the emperor employs to give him immortality. Instead, the witch curses him, mummifying him and his entire army.

In Li and Yeoh, Cohen has two gifted physical performers. Rather than letting us enjoy their talents, his sloppy staging and editing makes their fight scenes almost unintelligible. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe what happens when Li and Yeoh square off against each other.The emperor has been awakened by young Alex O’Connell (Luke Ford), who has dropped out of school to follow in his parents’ adventure-seeking footsteps.

This brings us to problem No. 3: Ford, who inexplicably uses a Boston accent that makes him sound like he was beamed into this movie straight from Good Will Hunting. (It doesn’t help that Ford also bears a physical resemblance to Matt Damon.) Am I missing something? His father, Rick (Brendan Fraser), has that classic, all-American tone, his mother, Evelyn (Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz) is English and he’s been raised at their lavish estate in the English countryside.

The movie gets some things right—Fraser and Bello, and the treatment of their characters are at the top of the list.

The O’Connells are retired but restless when the movie begins. Rick futilely attempts fly fishing, while Evelyn suffers from writer’s block as she works on a third mummy adventure story. So they jump at the opportunity to deliver a sacred artifact to China. They soon find themselves caught in the mess Alex unearthed, along with Evelyn’s brother, Jonathan (John Hannah).

Parts of the movie are fun, mostly due to Fraser’s and Bello’s winning attitudes. But there is too much slapstick, too much infantile humor, too much messy editing and an overload of special effects. This mummy should have stayed in its tomb.


(Rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence. 112 minutes.)

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