If Indiana Jones was the A student who severely disappointed with a C performance, The Mummy is the C student who ends up exactly where we always suspected he would: a failure. To call the second-rate Indy knockoffs of Stephen Sommer (Van Helsing, the underrated Deep Rising) disposable would be an understatement. While the first movie had its popcorn matinee charms, its sequel was a bloated mess that suffered from too much budget and not enough brains. If not for its winning cast, it would have been a complete waste of time.
The Mummy Returns' failures pale in comparison to this idiotic third installment, which establishes the low point for this summer's blockbuster bluster. It's not just that The Dragon Emperor's story makes little sense and wastes its biggest asset — Brendan Fraser. It's that studio grunt Rob Cohen's (Stealth, The Fast and the Furious, XXX) camera careens from one plot point to the next like an 8-year-old with ADD after downing a six-pack of Red Bull.
Hoping to revive the franchise with a change of scenery, the story moves from Egypt to China. It's 1946, and Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and wife Evelyn (Maria Bello, stepping in for Rachel Weisz) have retired from adventuring to live as peaceable British aristocrats — apparently, off the $800 million the first two Mummy films raked in. Despite their Anglo lap of luxury, the couple is itching to get back in the "game." Enter the British government and a mission to return an ancient artifact to China.
Quicker than you can say "jump cut," the two arrive in Shanghai to discover that their insubordinate son Alex (Luke Ford) has unearthed the tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Jet Li), who, we learned in an exposition-filled 10-minute opening, was a very bad dude with magical powers. Good thing he was cursed, imprisoned in stone by the sorceress Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh). Too bad, the O'Connell's package is the very artifact an army of Dragon Emperor groupees need to revive their idol. Complications ensue, and the O'Connell's find themselves hurtling toward Shangri-La, a trio of yetis (who are actually pretty cool until they high-five each other NFL-style), a three-headed dragon and a terracotta army that dukes it out with zombie castoffs from Pirates of the Caribbean.
To criticize the script would be to suggest that the story made it past the outline phase. Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville) pen painfully unmemorable dialogue amid plot contrivances that play like a CliffsNotes version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Worse, the few original elements inserted are so arbitrary and clichéd that it's impossible to care who is attempting to do what at any given moment. Every fantasy film requires a set of ground rules that the audience can follow. The Dragon Emperor simply makes shit up as it goes along.
One of the movie's more inexplicable choices is to push Brendan Fraser's Rick O'Connell to the sidelines and focus on his blander-than-bland son. Fraser is one of those underrated actors who can simultaneously play the charming, swashbuckling hero and straight-faced fool. It's baffling that he chooses to squander his talent on dreck like this and Journey to the Center of the Earth after demonstrating so much promise in indies like The Quiet American and Gods and Monsters. More baffling, however, is that Cohen and company think Ford (whose accent seems to change from scene to scene) deserved to take center stage.
By the end of the movie it's pretty clear the filmmakers have completely given up on any semblance of storytelling and just start throwing CGI effects and poorly staged action scenes at the screen hoping something sticks. The final confrontation is so incompetently shot you'd be better off closing your eyes and making up your own ending.
The truth is, we don't expect much from a movie like The Mummy — a couple of laughs, an engaging story, some neat fight scenes and few cool effects will do the trick nicely. The Mummy 3: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor is spectacular in its inability to deliver any of the above.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.