Mr. Movie

Unwrapping the new 'Mummy'

In 1944, horror movie legend Lon Chaney Jr. forever defined Mummy movies.

Just before grabbing co-star Virginia Christine, who went on to gain fame and fortune as Mrs. Olson in those old Folger’s Coffee commercials, it appeared to me as if Chaney yawned.

Who can blame him? Mummy movies are total yawners.

The 1999 daddy of the new Mummy is the only film of the bunch that can claim to be good. It managed via excellent effects and gobs of humor, to pump life into the most lifeless of all the old-time horror characters.

Naturally The Mummy was too lucrative to be left wrapped up. It spawned an unenthusiastic sequel two years later and a cousin, The Scorpion King, a year after that. Both were financial successes but critical messes.

They also put what we then assumed would be the final nail in The Mummy’s revival coffin. But all popular horror characters come back to life. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers — need I go on?

For this franchise back to life is more like half-life.

The mummy in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is an evil ancient Chinese emperor unearthed by Luke Ford who plays Alex O’Connell, the chip-off-the-old-block son of Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell. Maria Bello (A History of Violence) takes over from Rachel Weisz and plays his wife Evelyn.

Weisz had issues with Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s script. These are the guys who gave us Spider-Man 2”and Herbie Fully Loaded.

You can’t knock Spider-Man 2. Unfortunately The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has more in common with Herbie.

Director Rob Cohen is able to land some serious talent. When not badly animated, Jet Li does the most. He is encased in some sort of molten metal, a villain driven to find eternal life and unstoppable power.

Michelle Yeoh is an immortal white witch responsible for creating Li’s mummy. She and a gorgeous and also immortal daughter try to keep archeologists from unearthing the tomb.

There really isn’t much of a story. Cohen’s ear-shattering special-effect explosions, kung-fu scenes and armies of CGI characters locked in predictable combat are contrasted by whispery, low-volume, uninteresting dialogue and endless dull one-liners tossed off by Fraser, Bello and Ford.

Expect lots of noise and action but little excitement from a paint-by-numbers plot. Like Lon Chaney Jr., I found myself struggling to stifle a yawn, too.

The film’s last scene promises us more. Mummies — it proudly announces — have been found in Peru. Now reports are circulating that Ford has been signed to do three more Mummy movies.

Forget the yawn. I may need a sleep specialist.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It opens Friday at the Columbia Mall 8 and at Fairchild Cinemas 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself