Movie Review: The Mummy Returns
Watching The Mummy Returns is like standing behind someone playing a pretty cool video game. You may feel some vicarious excitement, but eventually you'd rather experience your own thrills.
Writer and director Stephen Sommers' follow-up to 1999's The Mummy subscribes to the basic sequel rules: Boost the budget, action and everything else.
If the first movie featured scary swarms of mutant beetles that crawl beneath victims' skin like kittens under bed sheets, the new one must revive them for more delicious killings (they burst out of someone's mouth) before trumping them with rampaging scorpions and armies of dog skeletons that, thanks to computer graphics, seem to span a continent.
If Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the mummy who regenerates his flesh as he devours humans, made a vivid villain the first time around, then he must reprise his tricks and be pitted against a more formidable opponent: The Scorpion King, a giant, unforgivably silly-looking monster with the face of a pro wrestler (The Rock).
The movie also gives the heroic couple of Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) a plucky 8-year-old son named Alex (Freddie Boath), who, in a plot development reminiscent of Ringo and his ring in Help!, gets a sacred, powerful bracelet stuck on his wrist and must keep it away from the baddies while facing a fatal deadline to remove it.
Evelyn's fraidy-cat brother Jonathan (John Hannah) is back, as are the benevolent helper Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) and Imhotep's ancient lover Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez). Also on board are a toughie killer (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and a goofy dirigible pilot (Shaun Parkes).
The Mummy Returns piles on at least as many subplots and legends as characters, and by the climax, Sommers is cutting among four battles being fought simultaneously. Action junkies may enjoy this non-stop barrage, which barely pauses for anything but the most rudimentary (albeit complicated) plot exposition. Others may become worn down.
Fraser and Weisz are lively again, but they're less actors here than presences. Their jobs are to look good in action scenes, toss off bons mots and be responsible parents (yawn).
Although some of the computer-graphics beasties are amusing, others resemble generic, mass-produced versions of Ray Harryhausen's stop-action creations. The heroes' peril is harder to buy when they look like they're playing a 3-D version of a gun-down-zombies video game. Sommers' affection for Indiana Jones and old action serials is apparent, but those films' thrills never felt so second-hand.