Review: 'The Mummy'

Universal reboots walking dead franchise but fails to unearth anything new
Sofia Boutella plays the undead princess Ahmanet in the Tom Cruise-starring 'The Mummy.'

Pupula duplex! The double-pupiled syndrome supposedly afflicting a Song dynasty Mandarin named Liu Chung is at last on screen. It's a syndrome never seen in real life, unless the Ripley's Believe it Or Not Wax Museum is counted as real life... as it should be, shouldn't it? Sporting four golden pupils, Sofia Boutella's revivified Princess Ahmanet gives Tom Cruise the "submit to me, big boy" stare in her title role as The Mummy.

If only they'd called this movie Zombie Princess Double-Eyeball, expectations would have been nicely lowered. The extremity of online complaints—worst Tom Cruise movie ever!—can be blamed on the would-be franchise building. The Mummy is a title to reckon with. This re-re-remake isn't committed enough to be really bad; it's filmed like too-polite Sam Raimi. Under Alex Kurtzman's flavorless direction, almost every character is a pain: even the ornery good girl (Annabelle Wallis) seems to have fading hopes of her own importance to the plot.

The sacred ancient text The Mummy is based on is Tom Cruise Script A1: "The Menschification of Tom Cruise" in which our boy-man must learn to be nice to other people instead of just standing around grinning, amazed at his own naughty mischief.

Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are U.S. soldiers in Iraq, in business for themselves, doing a little archaeological looting.

After being shot at by some insurgents, Morton and Vail request an airstrike, and the drone's bomb crater reveals a tomb. Inside is a Middle-Kingdom princess who underwent what longtime Mummy fans know of as "The Nameless Death." She was wrapped alive, tossed into a sarcophagus far from home in Mesopotamia and then soaked with mercury so she'd stay put. The bit about the mercury is odd, but it soon becomes clear: quicksilver crawls across the floor. This film is a fan of anything that crawls, camel spiders, scarab beetles, etc. Vail—killed early on—returns as a ghost to communicate his dread Egyptian mistress' wishes to her intended Morton. This is business filched—unimproved—from An American Werewolf in London.

The military hauls this cursed mummy to a museum in London. There, Ahmanet gets out and goes on the town, sucking all the life out of passers-by. Trailing her is Dr. Henry Jekyll (a not-bad Russell Crowe). As bearded, baleful and tweedy as Professor Quatermass, Jekyll is given to old Transylvanian proverbs, such as "The past...cannot remained buried forever." The doctor, and his companion Hyde—copper-green of face, shiny like a fly's abdomen—are heads of a secret organization that studies and captures monsters. The lab abounds with teasers: a wolf-man skull in a bell jar, a Black Lagoon creature's paw in formaldehyde. Indeed, Universal Studios is planning a reboot of its famed "Monsters" series, rebranded as the "Dark Universe" franchise.

The 1990s Brendan Fraser movies are now the official Mummy of so many childhoods. Thus it's probably a doomed effort to recall the 1932 Boris Karloff version, and far less to recall the 1960s Hammer remakes starring His Magnificence Christopher Lee. Back then Lee told interviewer John Brosnan that the original 1932 Mummy "certainly wasn't a horror movie." It was instead, a symbolist story with instances of outlandish terror, as when an explorer is driven mad by the sight of an ambulatory corpse: "He went out for a little walk!" Fiction writers of the 1800s created a few mummy's curses in various prose works. The surprise discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in the 1920s, and the legends of the doom befalling the discoverers, gave a powerful charge to Karl Freund's film.

There's nothing similarly zeitgeisty in this version, despite the Iranian prologue. True, the dead princess seeking Morton is alluring in her diaphanous linens, in desert sunset-lit flashbacks. Boutelle is a grittier, smaller version of Claudia Cardinale.

But she never stays lovely enough to kindle some uncanny love. (She has one good line. Confronted with her act of parricide in ancient Egypt, Ahmanet excuses herself: "Those were different times.") But Cruise doesn't take the bait. Kurtzman prefers the kid fodder of zombies, rot and crazy double-irised eyeballs to romance. And by the time of the final wire-work fight, with Cruise and Boutelle throwing each other around the room, it's all just another bent tent pole.

The Mummy
PG-13, 110 Mins.

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