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The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor/ ** (PG-13)

Posted Tuesday, August 5, 2008, at 11:38 PM

Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) is back with his son Alex (Luke Ford) fighting armies of mummies in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor".
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Rob Cohen. Written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar. Based on characters created by John L. Balderston and Stephen Sommers. Running time: 112 min. Rated PG-13 (for adventure action and violence).

There may have been a time when a movie like "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" would've been perfectly acceptable summer movie fare. The success of "The Dark Knight" and this summer's earlier hit "Iron Man" has proven that action can actually be mixed with intelligence and ideas without turning a mass audience away. "The Mummy" is a movie of simpler aspirations in which action is only accompanied by camp and bombast.

In fact, in its previous two episodes "The Mummy" franchise found its charm within its ability to highlight the absurdity and humor of the situations in which the characters found themselves. Writer-director Stephen Sommers exploited the goofiness of the characters he created to produce two action adventures that leaned more toward comedic developments than the horror story of "The Mummy" that inspired them. But new director Rob Cohen's vision is a different beast entirely. While the horror elements are still on the back burner, so are the wit of the characters and situations.

Cohen--whose previous credits include the original "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX"--revs up the action for this third installment of the series and leaves most of the other elements in the back seat. It makes for an incredible rollercoaster ride that seems held together with glue and CGI tape. There are some astonishing action sequences in a story filled with an excess of plot and too many characters.

In "Mummy" tradition the movie begins with a prologue. Emperor Han (Jet Li, "Fearless") holds a tyrannical reign over ancient China. In an attempt to achieve immortality he seeks out the help of a witch named Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh, "Sunshine"). During the research for the enchantment to deliver immortality to the Emperor, Zi Juan falls in love with Han's general. Han kills her lover when she refuses his hand, and she curses Han and his army to spend eternity as terracotta soldiers. Now, if that isn't a set up for some sinister fool to come along and resurrect the dead Emperor under the delusion that he will not be at the mercy of the resurrected, then I've never seen a movie with an ancient curse in it before.

The main story begins several years after the first two films. The hero couple of those films--the O'Connells--have settled down in the years following WWII. Neither Rick nor Evelyn O'Connell is comfortable in their new roles as "normal" citizens. Like Indiana Jones, it is revealed that during the war the O'Connells acted as Allied spies. Although here it plays more like a convenience of the plot than insight into the characters, as it did for Jones.

They believe their son Alex to be away at school, when in fact he has been hired by a Shanghai museum to find the tomb of the infamous "Dragon" Emperor Han. There is little surprise when his parents show up in the Shanghai nightclub owned by Evelyn's brother Jonathan to find Alex is no longer in school and now working for a former colleague with a questionable reputation.

Brendan Fraser ("Journey to the Center of the Earth") reprises his role as adventurer Rick O'Connell and continues to provide a solid action star for the series. Luke Ford ("McLeod's Daughters") seems plucked to be a Brendan Fraser clone as Rick's son Alex. Unfortunately, screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar ("Shanghai Knights") provide the two only with the most standard of action hero lines to utter, making their performances seem somewhat wooden.

John Hannah ("The Last Legion") is the gem of the bunch reprising his role as Evy's haphazard brother Jonathan. His is the only character that retains the irreverent spirit of the first two films. Hannah provides most of the laughs, including one of the biggest of the series that involves a barf bag and a yak.

Rachel Weisz is the only cast member from the first two movies who does not return. The casting of Maria Bello ("A History of Violence") to replace her as Evelyn is problematic. While Bello is a fine actress, she is a completely different physical type from Weisz. Suddenly, Evy has become a full-fledged action hero rather than the awkward bookworm Weisz created. The screenwriters do come up with a clever response to people noticing that a different actress is playing Evy with her introduction as a pulp writer who has gained fame from chronicling her own adventures. But Bello's portrayal seems forced into a role that doesn't belong to her.

"Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is not entirely without value. The action is of a higher quality here than in the series' previous entries. The sequence with the yetis is original and fun, although the CGI yetis are just a little too animated looking. And there is a nice theme concerning family that runs throughout the story, but the subtler touches get run over by the high-octane action. Certainly action is what audiences are looking for in summer "popcorn" flicks, but plot supported by action is far more interesting than action supported by plot.

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Yes, the direct-to-DVD release comes out Aug. 19. I would call The Rock starring first film a B-movie as well. Even a D or a Z-movie. And possibly a low class one as well. "The Scorpion King" launched The Rock's film career, and I think that was a good thing. But as he moves away from his past career by removing "The Rock" from his screen name(starting with "Get Smart" he is now only billed as Dwayne Johnson) I'm sure he would appreciate it if the rest of the world would forget about some of those early screen credits as well. I'm sure this is why he turned down the chance to play "The Scorpion King" again for this sequel.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Thu, Aug 7, 2008, at 5:00 PM

I was on IMDb just a little while ago and saw (with shudders going down my spine) that they're making a second Scorpion King!

Don't get me wrong, I actually liked The Rock's version, but another with completely different actors looks like a B movie, and a low class one at that.

But who knows, I'll probably have to see it just out of curiosity, and if you don't get the chance (or have the tolerance) I'll let you know.

-- Posted by "When the Music Plays..." on Thu, Aug 7, 2008, at 9:09 AM

All but "Encino Man" of course, which is from an even worse period in film, when Pauly Shore could get his name above the credits, or even on the credits for that matter.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Wed, Aug 6, 2008, at 3:32 PM

all brendan fraser movies are from 1997.

-- Posted by Eff Ess on Wed, Aug 6, 2008, at 1:10 AM

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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