Swathed in in­dif­fer­ence

Kerrie Mur­phy

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

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

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