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The Mummy

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 7 May 1999

  Directed by Stephen Sommers.

Starring Brendan Fraser, Arnold Vosloo,
Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Kevin J. O’Connor,
and Jonathan Hyde.

Written by Stephen Sommers from a screen story by
Sommers, Lloyd Fonvielle, and Kevin Jarre.

This very 90s special effects extravaganza, an update of those legions of mummy films following Universal’s 1932 original and a few British imports that I recall scaring the bejeepers out of me as a child, is much less a mum-walks-among-us story than a blatant rip-off of the Indiana Jones films with a sarcophagus full of dazzling computer graphics. It’s not a bad copy-cat actually, as this action-adventure-romance didn’t skimp on production values guaranteed to leave your mouth dropped and at least keep your eyes glued to the screen as this glorified B-movie blasts along for two quick hours with barely enough time for a breath. It may not have the talent of a Harrison Ford as the archeologist/adventurer, but Brendan Fraser has a heady bravado, a gun-toting derring-do (the kind that makes any member of the NRA smile), and a brawny musculature that is bound to continue to find him roles in blockbusters like The Mummy and George of the Jungle, while allowing the actor some occasional time off for the award-winning likes of last year’s Gods and Monsters. Listen closely enough and Fraser sounds like John Wayne. Yes, the May box office champ waits in the wings just over a week ahead, but Universal has brought the dead back to life in a big, big way to keep anxious audiences on their seats until George Lucas and his merry band of aliens force their way into theaters and your wallets.

As the Universal logo melts into the blazing desert sun, we learn a quick pre-Clinton lesson in 1290 BC Egyptian political intrigue that brings the wrath of Pharaoh (Aharon Ipale) and his gold-painted bodyguards down on his trusted high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) for dallying with his leader’s mistress. This pyramidal no-no leaves a sour taste on the cleric’s tongue (what’s left of it, that is), particularly since he is forced to share his coffin with scores of hungry, flesh-eating scarabs. Ooh, icky. Left alone for more than three millennia until the mid-1920s, he has plenty of time to contemplate what plague-filled vengeance he will bestow on those who refuse to believe that some things are left better dead. American soldier of fortune Rick O’Connell unearths the sand-covered remains of the treasure-laden fortress of Hamunaptra, the "City of the Dead," but along for the unveiling of this Pandora’s box are a motley crew of disbeliever’s, bickering rivals, American cowboys, a slimy Cairo prison warden (Omid Djalili) and Rick’s associates -- siblings Jonathan (Sliding Doors’ John Hannah), a mischievously drunken simpleton, and the bookishly fetching Evelyn Carnavon (Rachel Weisz), a clumsy librarian who later proves that the resurrected mummy forgot to renew his library card and has a hefty fine to pay. Also on hand are Jonathan Hyde as an Egyptologist modeled after the actor’s smarmy roles in Titanic and Anaconda, and Kevin J. O’Connor as Beni, a dentally-challenged Arab guide who provides adequate comic relief as Imhotep’s Renfieldesque sidekick recklessly searching for gold treasures when he instead should be on the lookout for a good dentist. Taking a watchful eye are the secretive, nomadic guardians of the city (another cinematic theft) who provide swordplay and absurd dialogue ("The creature remains undiscovered.") in their unsuccessful attempt to keep the intruders from their drifts.

Director Stephen Sommers keeps the action larger than life, the characters’ tongues safely in their cheeks, and the effects wide screen and mind-boggling, something he couldn’t do at all in 1998’s dreadful Deep Rising. For such a large budget ($80 million), you certainly see every penny up there, even if his script is laden with clichés. One episode that drew a roar of laughter came after Evelyn inadvertently revives the mummy by reading from the book of the dead only to be warned, too late, not to read it aloud. A member of the preview audience, not missing a beat, let out a loud "Oops!" that had us chuckling for a minutes.

Chills and thrills abound in this loudly scored (by Jerry Goldsmith) production with heavy use of choral/chant flourishes. Beautifully photographed on exotic locations in Morocco by Adrian Biddle, with kudos to the production design team and the extensive visual effects wizards that send fireballs crashing, water-turned-to-blood flowing, and boobies into their assorted traps. The undead priest scurries about in essence-sucking episodes that restore Imhotep to his former, bald-headed glory, although his juicy, visceral appearance as he regenerates himself throughout the second half of the film may turn quite a few stomachs. He’s a shifty mummy on an evil mission, particularly one weighty halitosis roar that gives new meaning to the words "bad breath."

All rip-roaring things considers, The Mummy is probably the nicest present you could give mama box office this weekend. Happy Mother’s Day!

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