The Mummy

(2017) * 1/2 Pg-13
110 min. Universal. Director: Alex Kurtzman. Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe.

/content/films/5060/1.jpgMummy we go again. Universal has thrown all in to its plans for a “Dark Universe” monster-mash-up franchise, on the theory that what worked before will work again: namely, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, et al. After all, Universal is the house the monsters built, back in the Golden Age of Hollywood. All of these monsters have been revived already umpteen times, of course, but strangely enough, none more successfully than the Mummy, which spawned a 1999-2008 trilogy (not to mention the Scorpion King spinoffs). This time, Tom Cruise anchors The Mummy with a big budget, hooey in bulk, but a conspicuously hollow script.

It comes as a bit of a shock that the film’s screenwriters include heavyweights David Koepp (Jurassic Park) and Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar winner for The Usual Suspects), along with actor Dylan Kussman and three writers given “Story” credit: Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange), Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married), and the film’s director Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek). That’s enough writing talent to suggest that the awfully clunky results owe to too many cooks in the kitchen serving, to mix a metaphor, two masters: Universal and Tom Cruise.

Cruise plays antiquities thief Nick Morton, and oh boy, is he some rascal! He forces his sidekick (Jake Johnson) into insanely dangerous situations (a firefight in Iraq laced with bickering-buddy comedy), beds a woman (Annabelle Wallis’ ancient-Egypt expert Jenny Halsey) only to sneak off with her buried-treasure intel, and generally insists that he’s conspicuously “masculine” (referring to the titular character as “the chick in the box”). He also gets the requisite shirtless scenes and ranks highly enough over Oscar winner Russell Crowe to make him say to Cruise’s character, “You are a younger man” (for the record, Cruise is three months older than Crowe in real life). Yes, Tom Cruise, you are very manly, but do we have to watch this movie?

What has tended to sustain Cruise through his Mission: Impossible years is an audience savvy contributing to thrill-ride action sequences full of near-scrapes and DIY stunts. And when The Mummy focuses on such sequences (plane crashes, explosions, rolling vehicles), it’s a reasonable facsimile of the Big Dumb Fun we expect in June. But whenever the movie opens its Big Dumb Mouth and begins babbling, the audience is liable to feel as cursed as the sadly generic characters. Crowe, playing Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), gets the worst of it, with lines like “He found his redemption. But at great cost” and “If evil were a pathogen, then there must surely be a cure.” Robert Louis Stevenson wouldn’t recognize this Jekyll, whose secret organization Prodigium is in the business of vanquishing evil: “Recognize. Examine. Contain. Destroy.”

Very long story short: awakened-evil-ancient-princess mummy (Sofia Boutella) wants to give human form to God of death Set, curses Cruise, wreaks havoc. Very long story shorter: you can keep this Mummy under wraps. As a story to speak to our hearts and minds, it's an utter failure, and perhaps so too even as a disposable corporate product. Global audiences will tell, but for the long run, Dark Universe looks like it could be a very expensive mistake.

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