Friday, August 1, 2008

Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Mummy dreariest

Rating: *

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2008 at 1:09 PM

Dismal sequel should be buried

By Matt Brunson





STARS Brendan Fraser, Jet Li

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor runs 113 minutes, or so I was told by my watch when I consulted it at the end of the film's advance screening. I'll have to take its word, since I only caught about 103 minutes of the picture. Yes, I committed the unpardonable sin of dozing off during a movie, but honestly, what jury would ever convict me, based on the quality of what was unfolding before my drowsy eyes? 1999's The Mummy was a barely passable Indiana Jones rip-off, while 2001's The Mummy Returns proved to be rather dismal. This one, though, is the worst of the lot -- and certainly the most boring.

The nap wasn't continuous; rather, it was a minute here, a minute there. And somehow, I managed to stay awake during the grueling expository sequences. I'm not referring to the prologue showing how, in the China of 2,000 years ago, a sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) places a curse on an evil emperor (Jet Li) who can now only be awoken by a drop of human blood; I'm talking about the excruciating scenes in which retired adventurer Rick O'Connell (series star Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz after the latter declared, "Screw this; I have an Oscar now!") mope around their English estate in 1946 while grown son Alex (Luke Ford) is (unknown to them) off digging up the emperor. Plot contrivances reunite all of them -- plus Evelyn's brother Jonathan (returning "comic relief" stooge John Hannah) -- in Shanghai, and from there, the gang is forced to fight the now-revived emperor.

The sloppiness of the entire enterprise is immediately evident by the fact that the 27-year-old Ford looks nowhere near young enough to be playing the son of 39-year-old Fraser and 41-year-old Bello. From there, the movie only gets more absurd -- or was I simply dreaming it all? Do the O'Connells really encounter abominable snowmen who, based on the employment of a field goal signal, must subscribe to DIRECTV's NFL Sunday Ticket package? Is that really a dragon flying about during the climactic battle, which already contains enough CG effects to cause heart failure in a Studio Ghibli animator? (Director Rob Cohen previously helmed the lame Dragonheart, that dragon-with-the-voice-of-Sean-Connery flop, so maybe he still has fire-breathers on the brain.) Is that really Maria Bello looking so glum up there on the screen, doubtless recalling how her formidable talents are more suited to the likes of A History of Violence (for which she received numerous critics' awards) and The Cooler than to treacle like this? And do scripters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar think that audiences will be impressed by dialogue that basically consists of variations on Rick yelping, "Well, here I am fighting mummies again!"?

I'm getting sleepy just writing about Dragon Emperor, which manages to make even an epic battle between armies of the undead a dull undertaking. Wake me when this review's over. And as for this perfunctory franchise, it clearly needs to take that long-overdue dirt nap.

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