‘The Mummy’ betrays its source material — and its audience

Tom-Cruise

 

The strength of any supernatural action film often rests on the thoughtfulness of its mythology: What is the curse, the back-story, the motivation of the villain who comes to plague mankind? How could it possibly be defeated? Plant those seeds correctly, and you can grow a healthy, satisfying thriller.

The new version of The Mummy not only skimps on its mythology, it doesn’t appear to know it’s making a “mummy” movie at all. I can’t imagine anyone walking out of the theater thinking, “Well done.”

It goes off the rails almost from the start. It’s the present day in London, and tunnel diggers stumble upon a crypt that houses the coffins of Knights Templar, buried during the Crusades a millennium ago. Simultaneously in Iraq, Nick (Tom Cruise) and Chris (Jake Johnson) appear to be graverobbers spoiling to liberate native antiquities on the black market, who stumble upon an elaborate tomb holding the remains of an Egyptian princess and sorceress named Ahmanet. Except Nick and Chris aren’t privateers, or archeologists, but American combat soldiers… ones without uniforms, supervision or a set mission, but who have the authority to call in airstrikes on a whim.

Who came up with this crap? The script begs questions like a panhandler at rush hour. Why is an ancient Egyptian entombed in Iraq? Why is Tom Cruise still playing a grunt on the ground long after when a real soldier would be retired? (Harrison Ford stopped making Indy movies — good ones, anyway — when he was 46; Cruise will turn 55 in a few weeks.) And what is his character supposed to be, anyway — rascally opportunist? War criminal? How does he survive the plane crash, and why does buddy Chris stalk him in scenes that play like outtakes from An American Werewolf in London? Eventually, I gave up asking, when I realized the filmmakers gave up long before me.

From start to finish, this movie doesn’t have a clue what it’s doing, or what it wants to be. Ahmanet starts sucking the lifeforce out of men as if we all knew she had that power; even her victims turn into zombie-like minions for no reason. (The film more closely resembles an episode of The Walking Dead than a stand-alone reboot of a classic movie monster.) About halfway through, the plot turns into a mashup of mummy with Jekyll & Hyde, only set in the present day where Jekyll (Russell Crowe) heads a shadowy government agency that has only about two dozen employes but carte blanche to put London under martial law. I think. It’s not like the screenwriters, or the director, Alex Kurztman, have the faintest idea what they are doing.

And that, ultimately, is the real insult of this Mummy. It’s such a slapdash mess — down to the wildly miscast Cruise and an dumb ending that goes out of its way to set up a potential franchise — that you feel insulted while watching it. There are no thrills, no scares, no emotion, no romance, no laughs (the gestures at comic relief are painfully lame). If you told me it was written in a cocaine-fueled weekend based on a barroom bet, I would not be surprised.

The history of cinematic reboots of old properties is a long and dishonorable one in Hollywood. Sometimes, they click — for example, Brendan Fraser’s versions of the same idea. Not this time. This Mummy should have remained dead and buried.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 09, 2017.