The Mummy’s a stiff

This cheer­less, ris­i­ble non-epic should have stayed em­balmed, writes Don­ald Clarke THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EM­PEROR Di­rected by Rob Co­hen. Star­ring Bren­dan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Han­nah, Michelle Yeoh, Liam Cun­ning­ham, An­thony Wong, Luke F

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

re­lease, 112 min

12A cert, gen ‘IT’S THE ad­ven­ture of a thou­sand life­times!” the posters shriek. Well, it cer­tainly feels that way. When, af­ter an ap­par­ent cen­tury-and-ahalf of te­dium, I fi­nally emerged from the third Mummy film, I half ex­pected to en­counter a city full of fly­ing cars and ro­bot po­lice­men.

Tomb of the Blind Em­peror is not, of course, bor­ing in the im­prov­ing, med­i­ta­tive man­ner of those Al­ge­rian art movies that de­tail the dis­con­tents of goat herders. It’s a kind of ag­gres­sive, en­er­gised bore­dom. The ma­ni­acs be­hind this aw­ful film have made it their task to ag­i­tate, stim­u­late and dazzle their au­di­ence into fren­zied stu­pe­fac­tion. As I un­der­stand it, such tech­niques were banned in the US be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of the Pa­triot Act.

What’s it about? Clear the CD re­views. Can­cel the list­ings sec­tion. This is go­ing to take up some space.

As you may re­mem­ber, fol­low­ing fur­ther ad­ven­tures with the un­dead, the sec­ond film pro­pelled its mar­ried he­roes (Bren­dan Fraser and Rachel Weisz) to­wards happy re­tire­ment in some com­fort­able part of the Home Coun­ties. In the in­ter­ven­ing years, Fraser has be­come des­per­ately bored (I know how he feels) and Weisz, a nov­el­ist, has be­come Maria Bello. “She’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son,” Bello says point­edly of her fic­tional al­ter-ego. That, I’m afraid, is the best joke in the film.

One af­ter­noon a gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive ar­rives and at­tempts to lure them back to the world of ad­ven­ture. For rea­sons that I couldn’t be both­ered to write down in my notes, the Em­pire re­quires a magic jewel to be couri­ered to an ar­chae­ol­o­gist in Shang­hai. At first the cou­ple are re­luc­tant, but, re­mem­ber­ing that Maria’s dis­so­lute brother (still John Han­nah) has a club in the city, they don their pith hel­mets and pack their re­volvers.

Oh, I for­got to men­tion the pro­logue. Be­fore the cred­its roll we get to see a long se­quence in which an an­cient Chi­nese witch (Michelle Yeoh) frus­trates the ef­forts of an evil war­rior (Jet Li) to se­cure eter­nal life. Back in the 1940s, some mis­use of the jewel causes the nasty fel­low to reap­pear and all hell breaks loose. Not just some hell, mind you. All hell.

Rob Co­hen, who has pre­vi­ously di­rected such un­wel­come en­ter­tain­ments as xXx and Stealth, ap­pears to be work­ing to the quan­tum the­ory of movie ad­ven­ture. That is to say he be­lieves that if you pile to­gether 1,000 fee­ble nar­ra­tives you will end up with one story that is 1,000 times as grip­ping as any of its con­stituent parts. Tomb of the Dragon Em­peror of­fers un­shak­able proof that the the­ory needs re­vi­sion.

Be­fore the movie grinds to its head-spin­ning con­clu­sion, we en­counter yetis, an­i­mated ter­ra­cotta war­riors, two-headed dragons and sub­stan­tial sec­tions of Frank Capra’s Lost Hori­zon. Is that a Dalek we see speed­ing to­wards the fi­nal con­fla­gra­tion? Is that Mrs Dan­vers from Re­becca? Just about the only myth­i­cal mon­ster we do not en­counter is – you guessed it – the ac­tual Mummy. One is tempted to sue.

Many re­views will un­doubt­edly make com­par­isons with In­di­ana Jones, but the Mummy films have a more com­pli­cated lin­eage than such quips im­ply. Orig­i­nally con­ceived as a way of ex­ploit­ing the lin­ger­ing buzz from the Tomb Raider games (them­selves, ad­mit­tedly, in­flu­enced by Raiders of the Lost Ark) this over­heated, over­stuffed fran­chise now ap­pears as ob­so­lete as last year’s iPhone.

All of which is a shame. There is enough res­o­nance in Uni­ver­sal’s orig­i­nal The Mummy (1932) to fa­cil­i­tate a de­cent con­tem­po­rary re­make, and the orig­i­nal cast of this se­ries – Bello seems a bit lost in part three – had enough verve, charm and ironic wit to power a more wor­thy project.

Now the dig­ni­fied Yeoh and the charis­matic Li find their tal­ent be­ing squan­dered as well. Curses upon you Rob Co­hen. May you toil for a thou­sand life­times in a king­dom of abun­dant ter­rors.

irish­times.com/thet­icket/

Jet Li af­ter first read­ing the script for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Em­peror

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