THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The 1999 version of The Mummy was a clever bit of Hollywood moviemaking. Writer/director Stephen Sommers re-imagined the story as a special effects-laden combination of traditional horror elements and Indiana Jones-style adventure. I really liked that movie. So did millions of others. The Mummy quickly became a blockbuster and solidified its popularity when it was released on video and DVD. Anytime a film is that successful, we are bound to get the inevitable sequel. Because I was at the Maryland Film Festival, I have had to review The Mummy Returns a week late. It has already had a $68 million opening weekend. This is a movie people have been seriously looking forward to.

It is also a movie that has disappointed me. I suspect that at least half of the moviegoing public will feel the same way. In its determination to be bigger, faster, and louder than the original, The Mummy Returns loses sight of the very things that made the first one so popular.

The movie opens with a prologue about the Scorpion King (pro wrestler The Rock), who sold his soul for the ability to defeat his enemies. He got his wish and promptly had his chips called in. He and his evil minions become trapped in a hellish netherworld, for all eternity - or until someone sets them free.

Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo duke it out in The Mummy Returns
The main story takes place in 1933's. Brendan Fraser returns as Rick O'Connell, the archeologist who has a knack for unearthing deadly relics. He and his wife Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) now have an 8-year old boy, Alex (Freddie Boath). They promptly discover a bracelet worn by the Scorpion King. That bracelet is wanted by a group of bad guys, including Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez), the reincarnated former lover of Imhotep (a.k.a. the Mummy). They have plans to resurrect both Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) and the Scorpion King. The logic is this: Imhotep is the only one who can kill the Scorpion King, and once that happens, Anck-Su-Namun and her crew can take command over the evil minions and rule the world.

I kind of liked the general premise of The Mummy Returns. The opening flashback is quite exciting, as are two action sequences in the first half hour (one involving a cave escape, the other a chase on a double decker bus). For a while, I thought the sequel might surpass the original. But then sequel-itis takes over and the picture goes astray. There are two major problems:

1. In the orginal, Rick and Evelyn were average people. They were normal human beings, thrown into a situation that was otherworldly. For the sequel, the screenplay suggests that Rick is somehow mystically connected to the bad guys. He is, in short, some kind of "protector" who is destined to be a savior to the world. In another subplot, we learn that Evelyn, too, is not what we (or she) thought. Her continual hallucinations are the first clue. The plot isn't as exciting when you know the heroes have metaphysical qualities that will help them fight evil. It's thrilling to watch real people go up against unreal monsters; it's substantially less exciting when you know the heroes are already destined to save the day.

2. The special effects go way, way, way overboard. To their credit, they are much more impressive than they were in the first film (no mean feat). However, director Sommers keeps piling them on to the point of distraction. Every scene appears to contain at least 10 special effects, each one more grandiose than the one before. After a while, it becomes overkill. The endless reliance on effects detracts from the story. In fact, the story all but vanishes into the background. Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to show off their new technology. However, they forgot that effects work best in service of a plot, not the other way around. The Mummy Returns gets so obnoxious in its attempts to out-do itself that I quickly became bored.

Although the over-reliance on effects harms the movie, I did admire the technical wizardy of them. The movie works as a demo of what computers can do to create entire worlds that don't exist. That isn't why we go to movies, though. While we may come out of the latest Hollywood blockbuster raving about the phenomenal effects, what we are really responding to is the way good movies incorporate them into a compelling plot. The Mummy Returns doesn't do this; its predecessor did. There is a difference between a good movie and one that tries to entertain you by beating you into submission.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Mummy Returns is rated PG-13 for sensuality and some language. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.
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