Pathetic on just about every level, The Mummy should be entombed. What the hell were they thinking?
Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his cohort Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are shameless antiquities hunters. Their exploits take them to a desert village in an Iraq war zone, where they come under fire. U.S. armed forces have to come to the rescue, which doesn’t please a commanding officer, Colonel Greenway (Courtney Vance), who doesn’t trust Nick’s motives.
Soon after, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), a British archaeologist, shows up. She believes Nick and Chris have stumbled across an ancient burial ground and that laying inside a massive crater are artifacts and coffins that are of great importance and should be brought back to London.
That’s the set up. In those first scenes the explosions sound fake, the dust in the air looks like dyed flour and the exploding debris is no more than little painted cardboard boxes. It’s all so painfully obvious that it’s embarrassing. Also in these crucial initial scenes, Nick and Chris talk a blue streak, bantering on like they are an improvisation duo riffing and searching for a punch line that never comes. Their scenes drag on, and the director has no idea how to shoot them, choreograph their movements or give them any vitality. The beginning of the film should be building up drama, suspense and horror. It doesn’t.
Turns out the massive tomb is more like a prison, and the coffin they are exporting in a huge prop plane, belongs to Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, Star Trek Beyond). She was an Egyptian princess who killed her father and her despised baby brother who was to inherit the throne she thought was rightfully hers. In flight, ravens en masse strike the plane, causing it to crash to earth. Before it does, Nick puts a parachute on Jenny, pulls the ripcord and saves her life. He is not so lucky. He dies. But, somehow he wakes up in a morgue, inhabited by Ahmanet’s spirit. Now, he is not the man he used to be.
A mystical element that would give the film a haunting, ethereal feel is sorely missing. Slipshod sets never look real. The monsters that rise from coffins are poorly conceived and rendered. The special effects aren’t special.
Producer Alex Kurtzman steps behind the camera as a director for only his second time. He lacks a consistent style that could have elevated the film. He is unable to help his cast create a common tone. Johnson, a regular on the TV comedy series New Girl, is doing shtick. Courtney Vance, a smart Broadway and Emmy-winning actor, is way too serious. Russell Crowe, as Dr. Henry Jekyll, a sinister sort, is overly suave, as if he should be in a Guy Ritchie movie. Annabelle Wallis is tepid at best.
Kurztman has a bit better luck with the action scenes. The plane crash, which happens about 15 minutes into the movie, saves the film’s beginning from the trash heap. Shots of Nick and Jenny running through the streets of London being chased by a sand storm are cool too, though you know it is all CGI.
The technical crew’s talent is MIA. All have done better jobs on other films. Blame the lackluster sets on production designers Jon Hutman (The Tourist) and Dominic Watkins (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Ben Seresin, who did a magnificent job with World War Z, shows little imagination as the cinematographer. It took three editors (Gina Hirsch, Paul Hirsch and Andrew Mondshein) to let Cruise and Johnson prattle on and on in scenes that lead nowhere and should have been cut by 50%. And, as you listen to the long and shallow dialogue, you’ll want to ask screenwriters David Koepp (Mission: Impossible), Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) and Dylan Kussman why they didn’t write tighter scenes.
Tom Cruise is lucky that the Mission: Impossible franchise and its Ethan Hunt character suit him like a glove. The Mummy and Nick Morton do not. He seems uneasy with the comedy/action/adventure hybrid blend. His timing is off. His acting, especially with Johnson, is out of tune. A scene in the morgue when he is partially nude and showing off muscles is way too contrived. At lease he’s still fast on his feet, and runs from danger quite well.
Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant featured solid direction by a real craftsman, a tech crew that made the visuals real eye candy and a script that was almost faultless. Scott didn’t recreate the sci-fi genre, he revived it. Cruise needed a Ridley Scott-type director, more imaginative writers and a top tech crew to help him redefine the action/adventure genre. He didn’t get it.
This abomination makes it look like Cruise has lost some of his movie star sheen, even if he hasn’t.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.