When you were a kid, did you ever come across a lame off-brand comic book you'd never heard of -- maybe at the doctor's office, a church basement or some other suspect place? You read it because it was there, but all along even your kiddie brain knew: This is just trying to be a real comic book, and it's failing in every way -- bad art, bad dialogue, uninteresting characters, stupid story.
That's how I felt watching Rob Cohen's The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: bad art, bad dialogue, uninteresting characters, stupid story. This is the third iteration of The Mummy action-adventure franchise that began in 1999, and clearly any creative steam this series had has run out.
The first warning comes early when we meet our new "mummy," who isn't really a mummy at all. He's an ancient Chinese emperor named Han (Jet Li), who enlists the aid of a sorceress named Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh). A dispute occurs and Zi Juan curses Han, turning the evil warlord and his army into immobile terra cotta statues.
Zip ahead to England 1946 where we find our tip-top mummy-hunter Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his adventuresome wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello, subbing for Rachel Weisz), retired in utter boredom. Meanwhile, in China, their son, Alex (newcomer Luke Ford), has dropped out of college and is -- surprise! -- unearthing the buried tomb of Emperor Han.
Faster than you can say "uh oh," Han is revived; Rick and Evelyn take possession of a giant gem that unlocks Shangri-la; Alex is macking on a cutie named Lin (Isabella Leong) he found lurking in the tomb; and everybody -- dead, alive or indifferent -- is soon careening through the streets of Shanghai in a frantic chase.
OK, long story short: Han needs the gem so he can get to Shangri-la's pool of immortality. Soon everybody -- including sorceress Zi Juan and some convenient Yetis -- wind up battling in the Himalayas, before returning to China for another giant dust-up between Han's terra-cotta army and a bunch of aggrieved skeletons.
It sounds stupid, because it is, and that might be OK -- this is a mummy movie cross-pollinated with a Hong Kong actioner, after all, so expectations are low -- if there was anything to relieve the tedium.
But, the sets are mostly wonders of obvious CGI, the jokes tepid and the acting dismal throughout. The formerly lively Fraser looks miserable here; Bello is strident; and young Ford has all the charisma of a brick. Action star Li is buried under inches of fiery clay, and is mostly reduced to mumbling threats; he has one short sword-fight scene with Yeoh that only serves to highlight how the Chinese martial-arts angle isn't gelling with the snarky ripping-yarn vibe. Sigh. Did I mention there isn't even a mummy? In English, and some Mandarin, with subtitles.
- Brendan Fraser to mummies: Bring it on.