Movie News & Reviews

Easy to get wrapped up in this 'Mummy'

Between this job, where I catch 1-to-3 monster movies a month, and my jobat a bookstore, where every other book I pick up is a paranormalromance about a half-vampire/half-werewolf/all-sexy chick whose questto kill all the bad vampires can't fill the emptiness in her heart, Iwould swear there's something in humanity that doesn't want to behuman.

Which makes no sense to me. This is the race that invented genocideand My Super Sweet Sixteen. You're more likely to be murderedby someone you know than a stranger. And if I can be honest for amoment, I hate you. In a daring twist, I'd like to suggest the realmonster we all want to be is man.

Sadly, the human condition is just not as sexy as vampiresses or as hipas zombies. As played out as those other monster subgenres are, onearea that's been consistently overlooked is the mummy. We can thankour studio overlords, then, that we've now got The Mummy: Tomb ofthe Dragon Emperor to fill that void in our own monstrous butmisunderstood hearts.

The fourth movie in the series, counting TheScorpion King — and you know I do, because that shit has got the Rockin it — it's far from necessary, but as far as unnecessary sequels go,it's worth at least a few of the dollars you'd spend to go see it.

Back in the day, Jet Li conquered his way to the throne of the Emperorof China, but for all his armies and magic, he couldn't conquer death.Witch Michelle Yeoh gives him that power, but won't give him herlove — so when Li betrays her and her beau, Yeoh curses the Emperor andhis soldiers, transforming them into terra cotta statues.

Back in the closer-to-present day, Luke Ford, son of renownedmummy-hunter Brendan Fraser, has unearthed the Emperor's tomb. At thesame time, Fraser and Maria Bello are dragged out of retirement todeliver a priceless artifact back to China.

Bad news: the artifact can be used to revive the cursed Emperor.Seeking to unite post-War China and the world, a local warlord mustershis troops to steal the artifact from Fraser and restore the Emperor'srule on earth.

Like its predecessors, Dragon Emperor is quick, breezy, andwilling to dole out the action, be it your everyday kung fu or yournot-as-everyday clash between an undead army and another army of adifferent kind of undead. It's a movie that wants to entertain you.That's a good thing for a movie to be. If you were a chick and it werea guy, you could go out with it for a couple friendly drinks withoutworrying about it trying to cram you into the back of its SUV when youleft the bar.

Unlike its predecessors, it's not set in Egypt! Chinesemummies, man. Let that one settle in for a moment. Go on, mix up aG&T. I'm not going anywhere. Unlike your "real" friends, theInternet is always there for you.

The change of scenery lets the plot roll into less familiarmythological territory, at least, but though it's loosely inspired byreal fables, a lot of Dragon Emperor's fantasy rules feelarbitrary. It's the oldest story in the book: get the Eye to unlockthe Emperor who needs the Pool which blah blah blah. That's prettymuch every plot in the Old Testament, and you know how old that bookis? Old enough that they call it old, that's how old, so we're talking1970 or something.

And that's OK. Immersion is the toughest trick in the fantasyplaybook. If now and then the movie busts out some mumbo-jumbo line socheesy-thick a family of Wisconsinites couldn't choke it down, it'salso got just enough airy banter to atone. (And, thank the maker, notthe obnoxiously self-aware banter of Mummy 2.)

The CG isn't too shabby, either. I'm getting tired of sayingthat — wow, it's like mondo-budget Hollywood blockbusters have accessto programs more advanced than MS Paint — but it's still nice to besurprised by the beauty of a lethal avalanche or a fire-eyed,copper-patinaed hell-horse.

The human element doesn't fare as well. Dragon Emperor doesn'thave the engaging characters that elevate an adventure movie fromsomething fun to something great. But with a run time near two hours,director Rob Cohen keeps the wheels turning and the mummies lively.That'll do the trick.

Grade: B-