Monday, June 12, 2017

In Theaters: THE MUMMY (2017)

(US - 2017)

Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman. Cast: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Neil Maskell, Simon Atherton, Javier Botet. (PG-13, 107 mins)

A simultaneous reboot of the Brendan Fraser franchise and at least the fourth attempt to kick off a new and updated 1940s-style monster cycle, it's obvious with the 2017 incarnation of THE MUMMY that Universal needs to get its shit together or give it up. 2004's VAN HELSING, 2010's THE WOLFMAN, and 2014's DRACULA UNTOLD all tried to reignite the legendary Universal monsters and failed, and now, in response to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe, they're trying it again with the so-called "Dark Universe," an attempt to meld the classic Universal monsters with the comic book/superhero genre. There's already other films in various presumptuous stages of development, including an INVISIBLE MAN with Johnny Depp, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE with Russell Crowe, and yet another WOLFMAN with Dwayne Johnson, plus a BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, with a yet-to-commit Angelina Jolie's name being constantly mentioned. Universal's philosophy with the Dark Universe seems to be "If at first you don't succeed, throw another $200 million at it and cross your fingers."

THE MUMMY has a major A-lister at its foundation in Tom Cruise, and the 54-year-old actor is a good two decades too old to be playing Nick Morton, a smartass, devil-may-care Army recon officer and part-time fortune hunter who finds plenty of spare time to seek priceless treasure in dangerous areas of Iraq. With his wisecracking sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson), they're caught in a skirmish with Iraqi rebels, calling in an air strike that inadvertently opens a long-buried tomb housing the mummified Egyptian Princess Ahmamet (Sofia Boutella), deemed such a danger that she was entombed 1000 miles away in then-Mesopotamia. Centuries earlier, Ahmamet, after offering her soul to Set, the Egyptian god of death, slaughtered her entire immediate royal family to hasten her ascent to the throne. Forming an unholy alliance with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), with whom he recently had a one-nighter in Baghdad after which he snuck out of her hotel room and stole the map that led him to Ahmamet's burial ground, Nick boards a military plane to London, where subway construction crews have accidentally unearthed a tomb containing Egyptian artifacts that date back to Ahmamet's time. The plane is struck by a swarm of birds and Jenny ends up with the only parachute, while everyone else onboard perishes in the resulting crash.

That is, except Nick, who wakes up in a body bag in a London morgue with a tag on his toe, supernaturally kept alive after being cursed by the spirit of Ahmamet. The mummy has been taken to the London headquarters of Prodigium, a secret government organization devoted to collecting and containing the world's monsters, and led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe), who must take frequent injections of an antidote when he feels his evil alter ego Mr. Edward Hyde taking control. Ahmamet has come back to life, draining the life of those around her LIFEFORCE-style, but is now kept in chains in an underground Prodigium bunker, intent on breaking free and collecting the artifacts necessary for her to reassemble the "Dagger of Set," the weapon required to make her an all-powerful god. She eventually possesses a Prodigium tech and escapes, materializing outside as a giant sandstorm that destroys London (cue obligatory "Tom Cruise running" shot as he's being chased by sand and dust). Ahmamet reanimates the long-entombed skeletons of crusader warriors unearthed in the London excavation, as a still-possessed Nick, plagued by visions put in his head by Ahmamet, is determined to stop the mummy's reign of terror and somehow save his own spirit.

THE MUMMY is a chaotic mess that somehow took at least six writers to put together, and it doesn't seem like any of them looked over anyone else's work. Three are credited with the screenplay, including veteran journeyman David Koepp (JURASSIC PARK), USUAL SUSPECTS writer and Cruise BFF Christopher McQuarrie (who's no doubt responsible for the ludicrous climactic plot twist), and Dylan Kussman, an actor best known as Cameron, the student who turns against Robin Williams' John Keating in 1989's DEAD POETS SOCIETY. Others had a crack at it, including Jon Spaights (PROMETHEUS, PASSENGERS), Jenny Lumet (at what point did a Universal exec say "Maybe we should see what the writer of RACHEL GETTING MARRIED can do with this?"), and Alex Kurtzman (TRANSFORMERS, STAR TREK, STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS), who ended up directing. The end result is disjointed and unfocused, like a product that was cynically assembled by market research, trend analysis, and focus groups. Why is Universal so hellbent on shoehorning these characters into a superhero scenario in a "Dark Universe?" Crowe could probably make a plausibly frightening Jekyll & Hyde in a straight, serious adaptation, but here, growling and hulking out with significant CGI enhancement, he just looks silly in what amounts to the Dark Universe's Nick Fury surrogate (and why is Dr. Jekyll even here anyway? Other than 1953's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, Jekyll & Hyde wasn't part of the classic Universal Monsters roster). The film also pays winking homage to the Universal-released AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, when Chris is killed off by a poisonous spider bite and his rotting corpse keeps returning to bust Nick's balls, much like Griffin Dunne's mauled Jack did to David Naughton's lycanthropic David in the 1981 classic. As the mummy, Boutella probably fares best, though the CGI does a lot of the acting for her. And despite the claims of some historically-challenged entertainment journalists who must be unaware of 1944's THE MUMMY'S CURSE, 1971's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB, and 1980's THE AWAKENING, Ahmamet is not the first female mummy in a movie.

Cruise looks out of his comfort zone in a horror film that can't settle on a tone (it works best as a straight adventure in its early scenes, before quickly imploding), and this just seems like a superfluous project for him to be tackling at this point in his career. Cruise has the Barry Seal biopic AMERICAN MADE due out later this year, but other than his commitment to doing his own stunts in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and JACK REACHER franchises and in a zero-gravity scene here, can you name the last time he really challenged himself as an actor playing a three-dimensional character? The serious actor side of Cruise has become harder to locate than the whereabouts of David Miscavige's wife. Where did BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY's Ron Kovic go? What happened to MAGNOLIA's Frank T.J. Mackey? Where's that Tom Cruise? He'll be 55 this year and his next two projects after AMERICAN MADE are MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6 and the sequel TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Dude, what are you doing? At his point, is a future sequel to RISKY BUSINESS out of the question? Are we gonna get a 60-year-old Tom Cruise reliving his glory days and dancing around in his underwear to Bob Seger?  In total coast mode with declining box office results but still big enough to avoid going the Nic Cage VOD route (for now), Cruise's career is in serious danger of becoming the Hollywood version of a classic rock band hitting the summer concert circuit and still selling a sufficient amount of tickets at big venues but playing nothing but the old hits for maximum nostalgia. He's the Def Leppard of A-list movie stars. The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLEs and the first JACK REACHER and EDGE OF TOMORROW were fine, but the last time he really stretched as an actor was when he put on a bald cap and a bunch of makeup and busted a move to Flo Rida in TROPIC THUNDER. It's almost like he left the committed, serious Cruise behind on that couch during his much-analyzed OPRAH freakout.

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