Friday May 7, 1999
Oh, to be a young teenage boy with the prospect of "The Mummy" before him.
A silly and cartoonish remake of the 1932 horror classic starring Boris Karloff, this very modern "Mummy" has all the elements dear to the hearts of the juvenile male audience, from an apocalyptic story line and frequent special effects to a smidgen of near-nudity, a smart-aleck attitude and a squirm factor too strong to be ignored.
Energetically written and directed by Stephen Sommers, "The Mummy" is harmless enough and poses no great threat to the moral fiber of America, but it would be nice if it had more to get excited about than the ability to create a massive spooky face out of a mountain of sand.
Sommers and screen story collaborators Lloyd Fonvielle & Kevin Jarre have gone for inspiration to the Indiana Jones films and their predecessors, the classic Saturday matinee serials of decades past. As a result, "The Mummy" is crammed with such familiar genre elements as secret brotherhoods and savage hordes on horseback, ancient booby-traps and characters who exclaim, with as much of a straight face as they can manage, "Beware of the curse" and "What have we done?"
But because this is 1999, the ampage has been upped. While Karloff's original mummy was a danger only to those unfortunate enough to be in his immediate vicinity, this new mummy, once unleashed, would neither eat nor drink nor sleep (that's a quote) until he'd sated his compulsion to decimate the entire planet.
Not for this '90s mummy (South African actor Arnold Vosloo) a pitiful covering of unwinding linen. In fact, as envisioned by Industrial Light & Magic, he isn't even covered by skin but just stumbles around as an ambulatory pile of decaying flesh.
Speaking of decay, the least pleasant aspect of "The Mummy's" modernization is the film's determination to be as yucky as possible. Unlikely to please the squeamish are hungry scarabs, plagues of vermin unleashed on the unwary and several moments that are calculated to have the audience collectively twist and groan in their seats.
The biggest puzzle surrounding "The Mummy," however, is whether it knows how inane its dialogue and situations are. Sometimes, the words seem to be making an attempt to be tongue-in-cheek, while at others the language is just plain inept.
The film's gossipy prologue, set along the Nile in precisely 1290 BC, is as crazily over the top as an Egyptian version of "Hard Copy." Here we meet Imhotep, lord of the dead; Seti, Pharaoh of all Pharaohs; and the great one's mistress, the seductive Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez, in an abbreviated costume Cher would envy). "No other man," we are informed in no uncertain terms, "was allowed to touch her"; even accidentally brushing against her in a post office line would presumably be seriously frowned upon.
It turns out that Anck and Imhotep have a thing going on that Seti, despite being Pharaoh of all Pharaohs, doesn't know about. He surprises them together and loses his life for his pains. Anck's reaction is equally deadly: "My body," she tells Seti's suitably thunderstruck guards, "is no longer his temple."
Anck is executed for her passion, but a worse fate is in store for Imhotep. It's a curse so awful, so horrible, that even an eternity locked in a room with Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu would be a picnic by comparison. The long and the short of it is that though Imhotep yearns to reincarnate Anck, he must spend forever in Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead, being chewed alive by flesh-eating scarabs and turning into, yes, the Mummy.
Flash-forward to Egypt in the 1920s and the jaunty character of Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser). A former officer in the French Foreign Legion who we've glimpsed fighting on the outskirts of Hamunaptra, he is about to be executed in a Cairo prison when a plucky librarian named Evelyn (Rachel Weisz of "Land Girls" and "Swept From the Sea") and her raffish brother Jonathan ("Sliding Doors' " John Hannah) save his life.
Evelyn, a budding Egyptologist, wants to go to Hamunaptra to further her research, and only Rick knows how to get there. Also looking for the city are a bunch of loutish, treasure-hunting Americans (is there any other kind?) who are led by Rick's nemesis, the weaselly Beni (Kevin J. O'Connor). Hoping to head everyone off before they unwittingly wake the sleeping monster are the descendants of Seti's plucky guardians, who've been keeping watch over the burial site for 3,000 years without taking so much as an afternoon off.
Given that Evelyn considers Rick "filthy, rude and a complete scoundrel," it's inevitable that they fall in love, especially with her wandering around the sands in a clingy black number thoughtfully provided by helpful desert nomads. Both Weisz and the always agreeable Fraser, who seems to have used this role as a warmup for his upcoming "Dudley Do-Right," are capable and attractive performers, but the film drags its uninspiring action out too long for anyone's good--even for anyone who's not 14.
"Maybe this place is cursed," someone finally says, and maybe that's the simplest explanation after all.
The Mummy, 1999. PG-13, for pervasive adventure violence and some partial nudity. An Alphaville Production released by Universal Pictures. Directed by Steven Sommers. Produced by James Jacks, Sean Daniel. Executive producer Kevin Jarre. Screenplay by Sommers. Story by Sommers and Lloyd Fonvielle & Kevin Jarre. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle. Production design Allan Cameron. Film editor Bob Ducsay. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Costume designer John Bloomfield. Art director Tony Reading, Giles Masters, Clifford Robinson and Peter Russell. Set decorator Peter Howitt. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes. Brendan Fraser as Rick O'Connell. Rachel Weisz as Evelyn. Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep/The Mummy. Kevin J. O'Connor as Beni. John Hannah as Jonathan.