'Mummy Returns' is witless fun


The less one thinks about "The Mummy Returns," the better.

Spending time analyzing it, or trying to understand it, or insisting that it somehow follow a logical progression, is a journey for fools. But simply sitting back and letting the grandiose special effects wash over you, marveling as hordes of dog-faced Egyptian warriors descend on our seemingly trapped heroes - now there's a brainless good time waiting to be had.

This sequel to 1999's "The Mummy" is one glorious thrill ride, an intense roller coaster of a movie that freely gambols from one breathtaking showpiece to another. And if it all doesn't exactly make sense, well ... does that really matter?

Eight years have passed since the events chronicled in "The Mummy." Our hero, swashbuckling legionnaire Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), and plucky heroine, fearless Egyptologist Evelyn (Rachel Weisz, who seems not to own a shirt with a sea-level neckline), are married and the doting parents of 8-year-old Alex (Freddie Boath). Their earlier encounter with the dreaded Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian man-god with aspirations of world domination, has become the stuff of family legend, stuff Rick would just as soon leave behind.

But not Evelyn, who can't get enough of hieroglyphics and pharaohs. As the film opens, she's back in the tombs, trying to reveal their secrets - and maybe at the same time figure out why she's been having all these weird dreams lately, dreams that involve lots of scarabs and swordplay, with her sporting sexy Queen of the Nile-type garb.

Turns out Evelyn's background has left her with more knowledge of ancient Egypt than she realizes. It also turns out Rick's desire for a life of relative quiet simply isn't going to pan out.

Some evil supernatural forces are at work here. Seems there was once this particularly nasty warrior known as the Scorpion King (wrestling's The Rock) who sold his soul to the god Anubis in exchange for military might. As is always the case with these old Egyptian nasties, he got what he wished for - and ended up sentenced to eternal damnation because of it.

But here it is 1933, and some modern-day bad guys (one supposes they want to rule the world, but maybe they're just innately bad) want to wake the Scorpion King from his centuries-old slumber, get his minions (those nasty dog-faced critters) all riled up, then kill the Scorpion King and claim those minions for their own.

Of course, these bad guys know they can't defeat the King alone, so once again they call on Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo, definitely not someone you want to tick off) for help. Which he's glad to provide; not only does he crave vengeance against Rick and Evelyn, who dispatched him back to the underworld eight years ago, but he's still nursing a serious case of the hots for Queen Anck-Su-Namun, reincarnated as a hottie named Meela (Patricia Velasquez).

Which means it's up to Rick and Evelyn to save the world once again. And just to make matters more urgent, the bad guys kidnap Alex, who is wearing a bracelet that reveals the secret of the Scorpion King's whereabouts.

Writer-director Stephen Sommers, who also was responsible for "The Mummy," has actually made a better film this time around. Fraser's character, who spent so much time wisecracking in the first film that he more resembled a stooge than an adventure hero, gets to keep his mouth shut occasionally here. And charismatic Israeli actor Oded Fehr is back as the mysterious Ardeth Bay, leader of a group of swordsmen devoted to ensuring Imhotep stays buried. Not that they're doing a very good job of that lately, but let's not quibble; Fehr has an imposing screen presence that makes one wish he were the hero here, not the Everyman-ish Fraser.

While the film's pacing can be a tad wearying - it never lets up, from an opening flood to the final clash of opposing armies - Sommers understands this is a film franchise that lives or dies on its action sequences. So he gives us plenty, and while they may not have the majesty of the epics of yesteryear (armies produced via digital effects are no match for having thousands of extras roaring through a scene), they're still plenty exciting.

Which is as it should be with a film like this. "The Mummy Returns" exists to get our adrenaline flowing, not to engage our brains.

'The Mummy Returns'

Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz

Written and directed by Stephen Sommers

Released by Universal

Running time 130 minutes

Rated PG-13 (Language, sensuality, carnage)

Sun score * * *

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