Alexandra DuPont Deems MUMMY III Noisy, Charmless, Unfunny And Perhaps Devoid of Any Actual Mummies!!
Published at: Aug. 1, 2008, 2:54 a.m. CST by headgeek
The Mummy: Curse of the Dragon Emperor: FAQ
(by Alexandra DuPont)
Q. What's the upshot?
"The Mummy 3" is relentless, artless, convoluted, noisy, charmless, and unfunny.
Q. Did you review and enjoy the first two "Mummy" movies?
Yes, with reservations:
1. "The Mummy" (1999) -- "The best way to describe this goofy popcorn ensemble adventure is that it's what would happen if you crossed 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' with a zombie horror film by way of a Ray Harryhausen fighting-skeleton epic -- then made it sillier."
2. "The Mummy Returns" (2001) -- "You remember how 'The Mummy,' while fun and cheery as hell, felt a bit like an entire meal of desserts -- packed as it was from front to back with effects and too many characters and relentless action toward the end? Well, multiply that vibe by a factor of six, and you've got an idea of the sort of insulin-shot-necessitating tone of 'The Mummy Returns'…. What 'TMR' lacks -- and this is important -- is a truly satisfying narrative through-line. The quest plot-frame is sort of convoluted, and the F/X porn is laid on so thick towards the end that, after a while, you sort of find yourself in this dully sated hypno-state -- amused, but not moved."
Well. "Dragon Emperor" compounds all the problems of "The Mummy Returns." It also ditches all of the first film's charm and fills the resulting void with yelling. Lots and lots of yelling.
Q. What's the story?
The prologue (which is overlong and clunky and doesn't quite cut together, but isn't too awful -- I can see why they showed it to Mori in the editing room) tells the tale of a ruthless Chinese emperor (Jet Li) who forces his conquered subjects to help build the Great Wall before burying them beneath it. (His political platform includes statements like, "I will crush any idea of freedom!") He also learns to master fire, water, earth and metal -- though I don’t recall him doing anything with these skills until several centuries later.
After deciding "I have too much to do for one lifetime," he conscripts a witch (Michelle Yeoh) to grant him eternal life.
There are disagreements. Things get hinky. In a nifty bit of CG-fu, Emperor Jet and his army are turned into clay-fired terra-cotta ... uh, mummies, I guess. (You could make the case -- and many will -- that there are no actual according-to-Webster's mummies in this "Mummy" sequel.)
Flash-forward to 1946, where the movie immediately gets to work on three major tasks:
(a) splitting its focus among too many characters;
(b) telling stupid jokes,; and
(c) cranking up the volume simultaneously on every single onscreen element (music, cinematography, performances, and F/X) until you're so worn down, you can't be arsed to follow the action.
Richard "Rick"/"Ricochet" O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evy (now played by Maria Bello instead of Rachel Weisz) have retired to Oxfordshire. Evy has written two lurid romance novels based on the events of the previous films. (It would have been awesome to hear her read a purple-prose version of that pygmy-mummy chase during her book signing. Not in the cards.)
You can tell Rick and Evy aren't having much sex -- because whenever one amorously approaches the other and something disrupts the mood, the romantic classical music on the soundtrack squawks to a stop like someone kicked the record player. They do this at least twice. Hilarious.
Meanwhile, their son Alex (Luke Ford) has grown up into a ratty-eyed, Malt-O-Meal-faced, weapons-grade tool. Oh, how I hate what they did with this character. Alex is now a college dropout who thinks he's twice as cool as his dad -- except that in reality he suffers from Brad Pitt stoner-voice and a stupid laugh and looks uncannily like a smirking rutabaga.
In one of the film's many blatant "Indiana Jones" scene-checks, Alex digs up the terra-cotta Emperor in a Chinese temple full of booby traps. Rick and Evy agree to run one last errand for the British government (an errand that really should have involved them digging up that terra-cotta army instead of Alex). Everyone collides in Shanghai -- including Jonathan (John Hannah), a crooked professor, some rogue Chinese officers, and a mysterious female warrior (Isabella Leong) -- and Jet Li gets rousted from his clay-fired nap.
From there, the movie turns into one endless, loud, wacky chase. Everyone screams and hollers while trying to stop the angry clay man from going to Shangri-La and activating his army, which is located somewhere else entirely.
(If this is starting to sound a lot like "Hellboy II" without the soothing influence of the Manilow, you're not far off.)
It's a decent pulp-adventure story idea. (At least it asks the characters to do more than walk around looking at stuff until a UFO rises out of the ground like a bath fart.) Unfortunately, the execution of this story drives this movie head-first into the ground.
Q. What's good?
1. Michelle Yeoh could find a way to exude poise in a "Garbage Pail Kids" sequel. Only she could gravely and unflinchingly say "The Yetis will help!" and not send me disintegrating into giggles.
2. There are individual SFX moments that are witty and well-executed. Almost all of them involve Jet Li's clay emperor. He can tear off parts of his outer shell to throw at people and then fire some sort of internal kiln to regenerate his lost clay coating. It's a really clever (if inexpressive) monster design.
3. Moriarty reveals that director Rob Cohen (who sounds like a perfectly agreeable fellow) really loves his Chinese history and mythology. Cohen's team packs the movie with visual detail; there is love in the film's design. Also, the Shanghai street set is really really big.
4. As Moriarty noted, Cohen got inexplicably spurned "Indiana Jones" stunt legend Vic Armstrong on his filmmaking team. Let's give Armstrong credit for this one sick-looking gag in "Mummy 3," where Evy jumps out of an exploding truck in Shanghai and the stuntwoman looks like she landed right on her kneecaps and skidded right across the street.
Q. What's horrible?
1. There's a screechy, overcranked, insecure, geographically confused, let's-put-an-exclamation-point-on-everything quality to the film that really burns you out after a while -- and it only lets up once, when the whole thing grinds to a dull, talky halt in a cave for about five or ten minutes.
Cohen (who did confident work in "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" and "xXx") seems to have lost all sense of proportion. Watching any scene in this movie, you can almost hear him screaming in the editing room:
"Okay! Use the shakiest handheld shot here! Now cut to an overhead "Lord of the Rings" helicopter shot -- but only for a second or two! Now turn up the music! And make sure it crescendos on something really minor, like Fraser turning to reload! Now add a sound bite of John Hannah screaming! Now get the effects team to throw a couple of extra Yetis in the background!"
2. Oh, right: There are Abominable Snowmen in this movie -- three of them. At one point, one of them kicks an evil Chinese soldier over a goalpost-shaped piece of architecture. The Yeti behind the placekicker Yeti raises his arms straight in the air like a referee signaling "touchdown."
3. Expanding on points (1) and (2): The movie has this ridiculous habit of doubling and tripling every character and story element -- when one character or story element would have had a much bigger impact.
For example: Rick and Alex perform identical heroic acts, often in the same scene.
There are three identical Abominable Snowmen, two warrior women blessed with eternal life, and two wisecracking drunks.
There are two separate mummy armies that go to war (in a scene that plays like the who-gives-a-shit version of the Battle of Pellinor Fields). There are also, for reasons not fully explained, two airplanes attacking the mummy armies -- I guess so Cohen could stage a plane crash without taking out anyone important.
I could go on and on. It's part of the larger overkill and lack of focus, and it one of the things that makes you uncomfortably numb by film's end.
4. The dialogue -- written by the "Smallville" creative team of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar -- is just monumentally lazy and unfunny. Here are just a few examples of the film's skyscraper-high wit:
a. During an airplane ride, Jonathan rides next to a yak that throws up in his face during a bumpy stretch. His face glistening with animal vomit, Mr. John Hannah yells, and I quote, "The yak yakked!"
b. Later, Jonathan is sitting next to the yak by a campfire, and he starts talking about how he'd like to marry her.
c. In Jonathan's Shanghai nightclub, Imhotep's, he and Alex have a cringe-inducing chat about a loose woman Alex wants to fuck. "Putting it in archaeological terms, that's a tomb in which many pharaohs have laid," says Jonathan. Alex, shrugging off Jonathan's warnings, replies, "Excuse me -- I have an excavation to do!"
d. There is a scene where Alex and Rick start comparing firearms and talk about size versus stamina, and the whole thing is clearly turning into this creepy father-son virility contest.
e. Apparently, Gough and Millar find the word "mummy" hilarious, because someone yells some sort of ejaculation incorporating the word "mummy" every 10 minutes, without fail. Among them:
"You guys are like mummy magnets!"
"I hate mummies! They never play fair!"
"I! Really! Hate! Mummies!"
You may have noticed that poor Mr. Hannah gets the short end of the stick in several of the above examples. He's directed to fidget throughout the film like he's in the middle of a particularly manic crack binge. If you see this movie, watch for one moment when Hannah's behind the wheel of a car in Shanghai. Just ignore the other characters -- it's easy; they're all shouting at once -- and watch Hannah wiggle meaninglessly around the steering wheel while they talk. It's absolutely mesmerizing.
5. I feel bad about writing this part, because Maria Bello is a terrific actress with a steamer trunk full of brass (see: "Payback," "The Cooler," "A History of Violence"). But her performance as Evelyn is, well, it's not her best work -- in much the same way Spencer Tracy's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" isn't his best work.
This Pennsylvania-born actress' extremely mannered take on what I think is supposed to be a posh English accent just totally controls her performance. She looks like she’s concentrating too hard, all the time, and it frequently leaves her with this Karen-Allen-in-"Crystal Skull" frozen smile on her face. Among her line readings: "Ancient Chinese isn't my FOR-tay" and "It's our only CHAWNCE." She has no chemistry with Fraser as a result, and the one scene she with the equally horrible Luke Ford, in which they talk about sex, is probably the worst scene in the movie.
(Come to think of it, Luke Ford is an Australian trying on an American accent. Apparently no actor gets to speak in their native dialect in this flick.)
Taking over a performance from geek-crush Weisz is a thankless job (I'm guessing Kate Winslet is the only living actress who could have pulled it off). I salute Bello for trying, and I'm sure she'll have no trouble crying herself to sleep on her pillow made of money.
6. Bello's not the only actress with weird line readings, by the way: English is Isabella Leong's second language, and some vocal coach told her to drop the emphasis sledgehammer on the last line of every sentence she says. This is particularly amusing when she talks about her magic knife, saying that Jet Li cannot be killed "unless he is stabbed in the heart with THIS!"
7. The Michelle Yeoh / Jet Li fight toward the end of the film should be a showstopper. It lasts about 30 seconds, and it's so over-edited, Cohen might as well have shot the whole thing with stunt doubles. Even the makers of slight crap like "The Forbidden Kingdom" knew to stop the movie cold so Jackie Chan and Jet Li could fight for five minutes.
8. Speaking of shortchanging Yeoh, here's a spoiler: There's this bit toward the end where Yeoh casually sacrifices her immortality (and her daughter's immortality, without asking the kid's permission) to bring Yeoh's long-dead lover back to life as a warrior zombie. Just a quick logical question here, since Yeoh was pretty heartbroken about the guy's death: If she could bring her long-lost love back to life this easily, why didn't she do it when he looked less emaciated?
9. Did I mention that I hate what they did with Alex?
Warmest, Alexandra DuPont.
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