It took me some time to write this review. I wanted to love the Mummy, I wanted to bask in its glorious Egyptian imagery and hunky stars, but instead life intervened, as it sometimes does, and the Mummy hit the back burner. Then I saw The Phantom Menace, and was asked whether I liked The Mummy or PM better. Well, I had to think about it a bit. This is not a good sign for either movie.
Brendan Fraser, fresh off a wonderful turn in Gods and Monsters, is an attractive piece of fluff in the effects-happy sandstorm that is the Mummy. I love Fraser, I love John Hannah, and I love Egypt stuff – so I thought I would be in heaven, really. One shot includes Fraser, Hannah, and a very nice sarcophagus, and if I could have gone home with that in my mind, that would have been fine. Actually, the best part of the movie is the sections before our guy actually is turned into a Mummy, beautiful re-creations of ancient Egypt and complete buildings and scary priests and whatnot. Several times later, the movie presents moments of tension (while uncovering the Mummy in the relative present-day) but basically after that, it’s kind of silly.
Arnold Vosloo, who plays the mummy, is a cross between Billy Zane and Joe Mantegna, and is of course, better as a person than as a CGI monster, but he’s even better when he’s not on screen. The actual mummy himself is a grave disappointment (ha ha). It has this tendency to do that wide-mouth yawning face which is supposed to be scary, and it can be scary if used sparingly, like once. Open extra wide, release a plague or two, ooo that’s scary stuff. But if every time he commands his armies of zombie priests or every time he points at the buffet when it runs out of bacon bits, every time he walks on screen, well, the effect is diluted somewhat. Plus the face isn’t that scary to start with. Ah well. The effects are very nice looking, only a few have that weird glow about them which I equate with the old blue-screen outline, this kind of internally lit look that is what cops CGI objects from a frame of “real” stuff. The set design is nice, sound design is nice, acting is what it can be with the material.
Rachel Weisz, apparently only cast for her delicious accent and personage, was visibly trying to give us characterization unhinted at by the script, but, bless her heart, her efforts were in vain. John Hannah, wasted with a fake (he’s Scottish) British accent and some awkward attempts at glib humor, is still a delight to watch, if only just to try and decide what he is thinking. “Gwyneth gets an Oscar, I get a Mummy. We *both* made Sliding Doors what it was, dammit!” Also blazingly miscast was Kevin J. O’Connor (who I did not realize was in Gods and Monsters too!) as Beni, a fez-wearing ethnic type of some kind – but that actor is born to be a whiny milquetoast.
The writer/director, Stephen Sommers, brought us Deep Rising last year, and while that movie was not exactly a tour de force, it was actually surprisingly funny and campy. Perhaps Sommers got caught up in the 4000 year old majesty of the subject matter, but The Mummy could have been equally fun and campy and wacked out, but unfortunately it wasn’t.
The most telling part of the movie was in retrospect as well. My friend had come to see the show but knew he had to leave 10-15 minutes before the end, which of course is the big climax. So I dutifully recorded every moment in my mind and rushed home and left as detailed a description as possible on his voice mail. As I am describing the climactic and of course triumphant ending, it seems sillier and sillier. What we have been conditioned to expect out of a film, my god! So, I am going to have to suspend my answer as to which did I like better, The Mummy or The Phantom Menace, and make you read for yourself and decide.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/7/1999
Time in minutes 127
Director Stephen Sommers