Reeling it in: ‘The Mummy’ comes unraveled

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Sofia Boutella appears in a scene from, “The Mummy.” (Universal Pictures via AP)

“The Mummy”

 

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 50 minutes

One of the most surprising parts of this week’s “The Mummy” happened before the movie actually started playing. The standard Universal Pictures logo came on the screen and then rotated, becoming spooky and sepia colored and displaying the title, “Dark Universe.”

Wow. Universal is apparently serious about their plans for an epic, multi-film extended franchise based on the original horror films, the Universal monsters. I’m referring, of course, to the classic monsters, “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Wolf Man,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” etc., etc. This is, of course, not the first time the studio has tried to revamp these properties, but this is the first time they’ve tried to tie them all together (blame or thank Marvel for the whole Extended Universe concept).

I guess the thinking was that by putting Tom Cruise in the driver’s seat for this first film out of the gate, the studio was in a can’t-lose situation. That might have been true if this were 1992, and, more crucially, if the movie weren’t so bad.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, ostensibly an army officer in charge of protecting antiquities in the Middle East from war-time destruction, but in reality a black market profiteer. Right from the outset the movie takes on a confused tone with the jokey banter between Nick and his buddy Chris, played by Jake Johnson, wherein Nick threatens to leave Chris to die in the desert with no water if he doesn’t help him find and loot yet another ancient tomb. Ha Ha!

Said tomb is found, accidentally, and turns out to be Egyptian, despite the fact that our heroes are in Iraq. If the Egyptians travelled 1,000 miles to bury someone, you gotta figure they’re not someone you want to mess with, but that doesn’t stop Nick and the army from unearthing a particularly scary sarcophagus and flying it away.

Naturally, things don’t go well after that. Eventually the action moves to London where Nick and his beautiful science lady find out who’s really pulling the strings. Enter a sweaty and grinning Russell Crowe who introduces himself as Dr. Jekyll, a fact that sets off alarm bells in exactly no one.

Meanwhile, the occupant of the aforementioned sarcophagus, the beautiful and deadly Princess Ahmanet, now better known as The Mummy, is wreaking havoc, gradually regaining her strength. But who she really wants is Nick Morton, Ahmanet’s chosen vessel for the reincarnation of Set, God of the Dead. Eventually, after battles with zombies, skeletons, Mr. Hyde, and a climactic tickle fight between Nick and Ahmanet (I’m not joking) the movie blissfully draws to a close. It’s been just over an hour and a half, but it feels much longer.

There’s no doubt Universal is all in on their plan. My hope is that this movie, directed by one of the writers of the “Transformers” series, Alex Kurtzman, is a fluke and the rest of them will be decent. The writing in “The Mummy” is the worst part of the film, but nothing much works.

Knowing Tom Cruise’s work, I can only guess that the material was simply too bad to overcome. He certainly seems to be giving it his all, as he does, but this is, bar none, the worst Tom Cruise film I’ve ever seen. It would be hard for any actor to deliver exposition like this movie asks them to do, over and over, every few minutes, as if the writers assume the audience can’t keep up with the fairly simple scenario they’ve constructed.

One of the highlights is Sophia Boutella as Ahmanet, a talented physical actress who gets to look very cool, though with little else to do. To see her in better work, check out “Kingsman,” and “Star Trek Beyond.”

It’s worth noting that in 2014, Universal tried to launch their new series of monster movies with “Dracula Untold” starring Luke Evans. That movie tanked because it wasn’t very good, and people didn’t need a new take on the old legend. In 2010, there was a new, big budget retelling of “The Wolfman” starring Benecio Del Toro that was supposed to set the world on fire and kick off a new series, but didn’t because the movie was dull.

Go all the way back to 1992, and Universal was attempting to go with a literary monster series, beginning with Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” a brilliant movie that didn’t set the box office on fire because audiences weren’t exactly sure what to do with it’s highly mannered style. It was followed by a more conventional, yet disturbingly gruesome version of “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” in 1994 with Robert De Niro as the monster. Audiences were definitely not into that, so the studio pivoted and actually had a huge hit with Brendan Frasier’s goofy but exciting “The Mummy” in 1999, a film that kept Frasier in work for another decade and spawned two lesser sequels and a spin-off, “The Scorpion King,” that gave us the treasure that is Dwayne Johnson.

Universal tried to come back to the monsters in 2004 with “Van Helsing,” a movie so awful that it nearly sunk Hugh Jackman’s career. Good thing he had Wolverine to fall back on.

The studio’s been trying to cash in on these properties for a while and odds are they’ll keep at it for the foreseeable future. Maybe one day they’ll hit it big. One day, but not today. Grade: D+

“The Mummy” is rated PG-13 for goofy scares, language, violence, and brief nudity.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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