Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ** ( two stars out of five)

They should never have resurrected this franchise. The third installment of the Mummy is a piece of lamentable, uninspired filmmaking that will leave Imhotep spinning in his pyramid.

Having exterminated every mummy worth his linen in Egypt, Rick O’ Connell (Brendan Fraser) now fights the undead in another well known mummy habitat: China. This time along, the titular mummy is Emperor Han ( Jet Li), a ruthless megalomaniac whose quest for immortality leads him to Zi Juan ( Michelle Yeoh) a sexy, powerful witch. Han fancies Zi Juan, so when he finds her in flagrante delicto with his trusted general Ming, he orders Ming executed, which prompts the witch to literally petrify Han and his army.

A couple of millennia later, Rick O’ Connell (Brendan Fraser ) and his wife Evelyn are coaxed to come out of an idyllic retirement to deliver a sensitive package to China, where their dashing, rebellious son Alex has just unearthed the tomb of the Dragon Emperor. A propitious confluence of events leads to a family reunion, at which point, things (and the movie) start going to pot. With formulaic predictability the O’Connells manage to reawaken the Emperor who starts wreaking havoc and generally being an ill-mannered, fire-breathing badass. Rick and his family, who hate the undead on principle and feel the only good mummies are dead mummies, take it upon themselves to exterminate Han before he can turn immortal and enslave the world. Wild adventure, romantic entanglements and several standoffs ensue, and there are rare moments when you feel again the outrageous chutzpah and roguish wit that made the original Mummy so memorable.

Brendan Fraser and Jet Li manage to hold their own, but the rest of the acting is so wooden it could have been phoned in. There are numerous attempts at humor, but since these attempts have the success rate of impotent sperm, the laughs are few and far between. The CGI sequences, featuring undead armies, the odd yeti or three and an Emperor Han who can transmogrify at will into three-headed dragon or giant lion thingy do little to salvage a script plagued with cringe-worthy lines and lackluster direction. At the end of the film Jonathan ( Evie’s brother ) relocates to Peru, so a possible next installment might have Rick and family battling the Peruvian crystal skulled Mummies that starred in the last Indiana Jones flick. Tutankhamen save us from that possibility.

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