Swathed in indifference
AFTER a lengthy break, we have the return of a period film series focusing on the derring- do exploits of a wise- cracking adventurer set in a time when archeology was less a science and more a game. No, not that one. While 2008 marked the high- profile return of Indiana Jones after a 19- year absence, it has also brought the less anticipated return of Rick O’Connell in the first Mummy film in seven years.
Makers of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor appear to have studied Indiana Jones’s development carefully and realised that the third movie in a series should be a family affair. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade had Indy teaming up with his estranged father, so here we have O’Connell, along with wife Evelyn, getting into strife with their practically estranged son.
After World War I, Rick ( Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn ( Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz from the first two movies) have retired from espionage in comfort, but they are bored with their lives. They’re lured back for one last mission when asked to return an antique diamond to Shanghai. Unbeknown to them, Alex ( Australian actor Luke Ford) is working in China at an archeological dig to uncover the terracotta warriors, and unbeknown to him, the warriors are a real army that was cursed thousands of years ago after their leader, Emperor Han ( Jet Li), betrayed the beautiful witch ( Michelle Yeoh) who was supposed to make him immortal.
Elements in the Chinese military are keen to re- animate the evil Han to unite the country and take over the world and it falls to Rick, Evelyn, Alex and Alex’s potential love interest, Lin ( Isabella Leong), to save the day.
The Mummy, its inferior sequel The Mummy Returns and that movie’s spin- off The Scorpion King were all set in Egypt, so it was a smart move to transfer the action to China.
Unfortunately, there the innovation ends. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is one of those movies than ends up being neither good nor bad. The story is passable, even if much of the movie borrows heavily from the aforementioned Last Crusade and the visuals owe a heavy debt to the work of Chinese director Yimou Zhang ( Hero, House of the Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower ).
The Mummy was noted for its effective use of computer special effects on a limited budget, and while there are some unconvincing moments in this film, the scene in which an army of skeletons rises from the Great Wall of China and heads into battle is well done and entertaining.
It also delivers the film’s few laughs. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor lacks the humour of the previous films and what I guess are supposed to be zingy one- liners are more limp than a dad joke. It doesn’t help that Bello is far hammier than Weisz.
No wonder that Fraser, whose gift for comedy and serious acting means he deserves a better career than the one he has, often looks bored.
But the biggest squandering of talent is the casting of Li as Han. He only spends a small portion of the movie in human form; for the remainder his character is a computer- generated terracotta warrior who occasionally crumbles to reveal a skeleton underneath, so someone far less famous could have played the role and it would have made no difference. Especially when director Rob Cohen ( xXx , The Fast and the Furious ) follows the Hollywood convention of filming the fight scenes in extreme close- up, which is fine when the actors involved can’t actually fight, but provides no opportunity to showcase the kick- arse martial arts skills of Li and Yeoh.
When the final scene sets the stage for The Mummy 4: Rise of the Aztec ( to be released in 2010), you can’t help but wish they’d quit trying to raise the dead. SOMETIMES there’s actually something comforting about watching an extremely formulaic genre movie. When I watch a disaster movie, I want to see a grizzled old timer who has lived here for nigh on 50 years and ain’t moving anywhere for some volcano/ meteor/ alien invasion/ swarm of genetically modified bees, dagnamit. And I definitely want to see a dog make a miraculous escape.
Similarly, when I watch a movie about a young woman who dreams of leaving her smalltime existence and becoming a dancer, I want to see her rejected by the establishment for her radical dance moves. I want her to get an incongruous day job while she dances at night at a slightly risque but ultimately respectable club. I want the head dancer at the club to be a bitch who is threatened by her talent. And you’d better believe I want a makeover scene in which a best friend shows the dancer how to highlight her talents.
Make It Happen checks every box. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Lauryn, who, along with her brother, keeps the family garage going in a small town in Indiana after the death of her widowed father. But her dream is to dance; only the Chicago School of Music and Dance doesn’t take to her semi- krump dance style. The film would like you to believe it’s because the establishment doesn’t like her radical style, but really, ballet has been rocked by so much avantgarde choreography over the past three decades that Lauryn’s is hardly the pearl- clutching type.
Dismayed, she takes a job as an accountant at Ruby’s, an innovative and very chaste burlesque club, where her new friend Dana ( Veronica Mars ’ Tessa Thompson) works. There she meets a boy, Russ ( Riley Smith), who is apparently happy to listen to her constant insufferable waffling about her family. When one of the dancers calls in sick, she gets her chance. People are wowed.
But despite aping Flashdance so closely that it even borrows a lyric from the theme song, Make It Happen is not quite cheesy enough to make its hackneyed story enjoyable. No mean feat from a story so ridiculous that not one but two characters have complete changes of heart almost at random. The film seems to be aiming at a PG version of camp dance- movie classics Coyote Ugly and Showgirls .
It’s too tepid for that. In the makeover, Lauryn goes from frumpy loose clothes to frumpy tight- fitting clothes. The burlesque dancing is so mundane it would get you evicted from the first episode of the reality show The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll .
And a dance movie really needs to bring some impressive moves these days, given what we see on the reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance . Winstead may have trained to be a ballerina, but you can almost see her thinking the next move in her head.
And in a movie like this, when someone thinks, nobody wins.
He’s back: Brendan Fraser encounters more trouble with formerly dead people in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor