I probably did Rob Cohen’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor no favors by watching Karl Freund’s The Mummy (1932) the night before. Sure, Freund’s Mummy is old and creaky by today’s standards, but it nonetheless manages to be an infinitely more engrossing and entertaining movie, even without the big budget of today’s Hollywood films. It’s the exact antithesis to Cohen’s latest flick. Where Freund’s picture is a restrained, sparse, moody affair, this new film is a simple exercise in overdone bluster: full of sound and fury, signifying nothing more than a paycheck for both Brendan Fraser and Jet Li’s sagging careers.
This third installment in the Mummy franchise finds our hero, the gun-toting adventurer Rick O’Connell (Fraser), forced into domestic life with his wife Evelyn (previously played by Rachel Weisz, but portrayed this time around by dye-jobbed Maria Bello affecting a British accent). Bored with home life, the couple travel to China at the behest of the British government to return an amulet to the Chinese, only to run into their college-dropout son, Alex (Luke Ford, a sort of second coming of Christian Slater). Alex has recently discovered the mummy of the ruthless, long-dead Chinese emperor Han (Li). It seems Mr. Han sought the key to immortality from a witch (Michelle Yeoh, in her most pointless role since making it in the movies stateside)—a plan which backfired and caused Han and his army to sweat CGI chocolate, catch fire and then mummify (at least that’s what it looks like on-screen).
But since this is a Mummy movie, Han is, of course, resurrected—here as a computer-effects-rendered, stone-encased corpse (allowing Li to give the dull, humorless, emotionless performance he was born to give as a walking CGI statue). It’s up to the O’Connell clan to stop Han’s plans of world domination, but not before taking a few side trips to the Himalayas and Shangri-La, which looks a lot like a Lisa Frank painting. It appears that Cohen really thought he had something like Spielberg material on his hands, with the film’s dysfunctional family underpinnings and its sub-Indiana Jones feel, but instead the movie comes across as more of a second-rate Brett Ratner film.
The movie is half ridiculous contrivances (only there to keep the story from falling apart) and half bad ideas, the worst being a trio of cartoony fist-pumping yetis that bring new meaning to the word “abominable.” All of it is wrapped in the Mummy franchise’s usual egregious use of clunky CGI and cheesy one-liners. Even compared to the other lackluster choices currently at the box office, this is mediocre summer filmmaking at its most mediocre. Rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence.