J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Mummy (sort of)

As the latest Universal monster reboot commences, the audience sees the logo for the “Dark Universe” shared world, followed by the ident for the Perfect World Pictures production company. Fittingly contradictory, it gives us an immediate clue this movie has no idea what it is supposed be. This certainly isn’t a horror film, nor can you really call it a monster movie. It is more of an action flick or a CGI show reel. There isn’t even a proper mummy in Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Princess Ahmanet was darn near the feminist icon of antiquity, but her lecherous old man had a son with his new trophy wife, thereby removing her from the line of succession. Not one to take sleights lying down, Ahmanet made a pact with the god of the underworld, but she was killed by the palace guards before she could complete her infernal sacrifice. Fearing her bad mojo, Ahmanet was buried in an unmarked tomb way the heck and gone in Mesopotamia. Fatefully, our “hero,” Nick Morton, a relic-smuggling GI rather loosely attached to an infantry unit, stumbles across it. (Frankly, it is rather dubious a fifty-four-year-old enlisted man would have such leeway to craft his own recon missions, but that is the least of the problems here.)

Busted by Jenny Halsey, the pretty archaeologist he seduced for her secret tomb map, Morton and his sidekick Chris Vail are forced to help her schlep the sarcophagus to London. While en route, the reawakened Ahmanet attacks their flight with hordes of crows. Morton saves Halsey, but both he and Vail are goners. However, Ahmanet has apparently decided Morton is the one to complete her blood sacrifice, so she will not only him to die until she can kill him herself. Likewise, Vail starts to haunt Morton like Griffin Dunne in American Werewolf in London.

Obviously, none of the six credited screenwriters had any clue why the original Universal monster movies or the next generation Hammer films were popular. Instead, they slavishly try to follow the Marvel Avengers shared world template, appointing Dr. Henry Jekyll the Nick Fury-like leader of the Prodigum, essentially a S.H.I.E.L.D. for monster hunters. In this case, the lack of originality is almost insulting.

Even though they are dated in terms of effects, the original Universal franchises still work because of their gothic intimacy. Frankenstein was the ultimate father-son rivalry. The Wolf-Man was the prodigal son wracked with guilt. The Invisible Man was out to settle scores with everyone who did him dirty. Dracula made women swoon. In contrast, Kurtzman and company just serve up bombast. There isn’t even any moonlight or shadows. Nearly every scene takes during daylight hours.

If that were not sufficiently problematic, The Mummy could very well mark the point when Cruise’s cocky kid shtick completely ran dry. Spending time with the utterly charmless Morton is like listening to fingernails on a blackboard, while undergoing root canal treatment. Russell Crowe labors to make Jekyll flamboyantly fun, but he is struggling in a losing cause. Arguably, Annabelle Wallis fares the best as the smart and forceful Halsey, but it is impossible to believe she would put up with the obnoxious Morton. As a further bafflement, The Mummy apparently completely wastes two reliable genre role-players: Neil Maskell and Chasty Ballesteros, both of whom are listed in imdb, but we completely missed them on-screen.

Frankly, Tom Cruise the real-life cult-member is much scarier than anything in this movie. Even the Stephen Sommers-Brendan Fraser trilogy had the good sense to deliver generous helpings of torch-carrying tomb-raiding. Chances are if you have ever enjoyed any film about a mummy, you will vehemently dislike this film. Not recommended, The Mummy opens today (6/9) in theaters throughout the City, including the AMC Empire.

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