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[whitespace] 'The Mummy Returns'
Mum's the Word: All the king's horses and all the king's men can't wrap this 'Mummy' up again.

It's a Wrap

'The Mummy Returns' drains the life from the franchise

By Richard von Busack

"Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!"

--ad tagline for The Curse of the Mummy, 1964

I OVERHEARD A PAIR of geezers in a doughnut shop debating the scariness of the Universal Studios monsters. "The Mummy wasn't scary at all. You coulda outrun him easy. Remember how they had Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man? They shoulda had Frankenstein Meets the Mummy, 'cause Frankenstein was slow, too. They coulda had a chase scene."

The 1999 remake of The Mummy was a pinprick-eyed video game of a film, with a Raiders of the Lost Ark hero (Brendan Fraser as Ontario Jones). Of course, what was discarded wasn't just the slowness but the original Mummy's sense of mystery: the eternity in Boris Karloff's eyes.

The Mummy Returns is less disappointing, since the 1999 version lowered the expectations good and proper. Still, it waddles, stuffed with subplots and increasingly second-rate computer graphics. In 1933, Ontario Jones, really named Rick O'Connell, is now married to Evelyn (Rachel Weisz). Their young Harry Potterish kid (Freddie Boath) is kidnapped by the priests of Im-Ho-Tep because he possesses a scorpion bracelet that will inaugurate the end of the world.

Im-Ho-Tep (played, when he has his skin on, by Arnold Vosloo) wants the bracelet so that he can command the armies of the Scorpion King, a warrior from 3000 B.C.E. who sold his soul to Anubis, jackal-headed god of bad Egyptian movies.

The king is played by the Rock, a popular tumbler who shows up for 15 minutes, tops. For one of these minutes, he's miming defeat and despair, and this is a horse laugh; the Rock's forte seems to be a sneer of harsh barbaric triumph, and he's lost without it.

Vosloo's no threat, either. He'd be well cast as a sadistic high school gym teacher, but he is outclassed by Patricia Velasquez, who plays his reincarnated girlfriend, Anck-Su-Namun. She's a cruel piece of work who looks like the arrogant daughter of Frank Langella. If only she'd dumped her baldy-boy boyfriend and taken over the movie. The high point of the film is an ancient Egyptian karate fight between Velasquez and Weisz, who turns out to have been Nefertiti in her past life.

As fights go, it's not much. The scene is cut to shreds to mask the obvious stunt doubling, and there's a backflip that's fussed over by the camera as if it were Baby's First Step. Velasquez's look of superiority evinces the kind of beautiful arrogance we expect from movies about the pyramid-builders. Otherwise there's no sense of humanity in The Mummy Returns.

The real subject here is the caroming of pixels off one another--whether legions of soldiers, vats of black scorpions or clouds of black dust, it's all the same badly animated, studiously artificial chaos. Maybe the film isn't supposed to have a mood, because mood might scare the children who are its intended audience.

The level of emotional involvement is kept so low that I assume it must be deliberate. The Mummy Returns is like a bedtime story told by bored, distracted parents who are coasting over the natural points where suspense could be built up, just in the hopes of getting the whole thing over with.

The Mummy Returns (PG-13; 125 min.), directed and written by Stephen Sommers, photographed by Adrian Biddle and starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, plays at selected theaters.

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From the May 10-16, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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