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Dustin Putman

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The Mummy:
Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
1 Stars
Directed by Rob Cohen.
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Luke Ford, Jet Li, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Russell Wong, Liam Cunningham, David Calder.
2008 – 112 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 30, 2008.
Color me old-fashioned, but when I think of mummies depicted throughout the cinematic ages, a solitary image comes to mind: that of the undead, draped head to toe in strips of white linen, staggering around in dark passageways ready to pounce. "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," more so than even its predecessors—1999's "The Mummy" and 2001's "The Mummy Returns"—fails to fulfill this minimal expectation. This series, bypassing the horror genre altogether in favor of the adventure-comedy route, has grown increasingly depressing. Millions upon millions of dollars have been wasted on a dispiriting product that not only doesn't do justice to tried-and-true mummy lore, but cannot be bothered to rustle up anything in the way of excitement or imagination. "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is a popcorn movie dirge that gives popcorn movies a bad name.

The year is 1946, and married explorers Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O'Connell (Maria Bello) have since retired in order to make a comfortable life for themselves in Oxfordshire, England. While these two are certainly in love with each other, they're also growing restless for the adventures they used to have. Sure enough, Rick and Evelyn are soon called back into action when college-aged son Alex (Luke Ford) accidentally brings back to life the ancient Emperor Han (Jet Li), a Chinese dictator in search of immortality who was entombed thousands of years ago by beautiful wizard Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh). With Emperor Han determined to rebuild his empire and finally be given the gift of infinite life, it is up to Rick, Evelyn and Alex to thwart his plans and lay him to rest for good.

A change in director—Rob Cohen (2005's "Stealth") takes over for previous series helmer Stephen Sommers—has done nothing to resurrect life into this sagging franchise. "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is a creatively bankrupt bit of nonsense, stunning in its overall ineptitude. The uninspired screenplay by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (2005's "Herbie: Fully Loaded") transplants the setting from Egypt to China, but otherwise is a dull rehash. The story is nearly incomprehensible, filled with groan-inducing one-liners, clangy conversational dialogue, and numerous plot holes. Why, for example, is Emperor Han able to suddenly shapeshift during the climax when, based on the meager rules set up, Zi Juan and daughter Lin (Isabella Leong) should also be able to? Just because director Rob Cohen thinks it might look cool?

Technical aspects are no better, with one segment carelessly changing from night to day and back to night again without rhyme or reason. The irritatingly shaky cinematography seems less intentional than simply the result of a spastic cameraman who has no idea what he's doing. Visual effects, emphasizing obvious CGI galore, are crummy for this day and age, with an avalanche that isn't believable for a second and a run-in with abominable snowmen ruined by awful creature designs. Who thought these furry, almost cute creatures on display would pose a threat, and how did they get out of the pre-production stage without someone pointing out how misguided they look? A chance to defy predictability arrives in one set-piece when it appears as if a wounded lead character is about to become a casualty. I sat up in my seat, suddenly involved in a film I hadn't been for the last hour. Would director Rob Cohen actually have the courage to follow through with this unexpected development? Let's just say the picture settled back into tedious mediocrity moments later, and all hopes were dashed.

Brendan Fraser (2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth") reprises his role as Rick O'Connell without really building upon the character. Sporting a British accent so terrible that it's almost endearing, Maria Bello (2006's "Flicka") replaces a wisely MIA Rachel Weisz as Evelyn. Bello is energetic and fun early on, and then gets lost in the midst of the bad CGI surrounding her. In casting 27-year-old Luke Ford as son Alex, the alleged plan is to have him take the leading-man reigns if a fourth "Mummy" film is produced. What doesn't make sense is how anyone could believe he is the child of 39-year-old Fraser? They look more like peers than a father and son. Worse still, Ford has zero charisma in front of the camera—he looks like a clone of Matt Damon, but without the talent—and mysteriously goes back and forth between an American accent and an Australian one. Since when was Alex raised Down Under? Meanwhile, Jet Li (2008's "The Forbidden Kingdom") has little to do and even less to say as the villainous Emperor Han, and Michelle Yeoh (2007's "Sunshine") outacts them all as the dignified Zi Juan.

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" climaxes with a routine desert battle scene between two warring armies of the undead—how original!—and calls to mind fond memories of a similar but far superior sequence in 1993's "Army of Darkness." Following this, the ending concludes on a note so utterly cheesy and out of place that the viewer may wonder if their drink hasn't been laced with mind-altering substances. Less painful than it could have been by the very fact that it comes in at a relatively brisk 112 minutes, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is nonetheless a giant embarrassment that should hopefully put an end to this wrongheaded series. The film is unscary and doesn't try to be, so that's acceptable under the circumstances, but there is no excuse for an action feature to not hold a single thrilling moment. That's not just bad luck, that's bad filmmaking.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman