Directed by Stephen Sommers. Starring Omid Djalili, Oded Fehr, Jonathan Hyde, Kevin J. O'Connor, Arnold Vosloo, John Hannah, Rachel Weisz, Brendan Fraser. (1999, PG-13, 124 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 7, 1999
In the pantheon of classic Universal monster movies, the original The Mummy, directed in 1932 by Karl Freund and running just over an hour, was not the start of the studio's most gripping franchise. While the studio's other series feature the man-as-god morality plays of Victor Frankenstein or the baleful, cursed legacy of poor Larry Talbot -- The Wolf Man -- or even the scaly, lovestruck aquatics of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Universal's Mummy, while pleasantly chilling, was regarded by many as a bit of a bore. Imagine: Bullets won't stop it, but hey, you can always walk faster, right? This ambitious updating by Stephen Sommers (who also helmed the superlative, woefully underseen Deep Rising) makes amends for all that by turning the franchise into an Indiana Jones-style period adventure piece, and while this version suffers from trying to pack too much into too small a space, it's nevertheless a grandly silly outing, filled with Fraser's derring-do, maidens in need of rescuing, foul villains, and the (literally) timeless love story between Pharaoh's wayward priest Imhotep (played this time out by Vosloo of Hard Target and the Darkman series) and his lost love Anck Su Namun. After a prologue and melodramatic voiceover which reveals the circumstances behind the creation of the mummy, Sommers flashes forward to 1923 when mercenary Rick O'Connell (Fraser) and his legionnaire troops discover the lost Egyptian city of the dead -- Hamunaptra -- while fending off some desert raiders. Captured and awaiting execution, O'Connell is eventually recruited (at the end of a noose) by British explorers Evelyn (Weisz) and her brother Jonathan (Hannah -- Sliding Doors, Four Weddings and a Funeral) who immediately embark on a journey to rediscover the city and presumably discover where all that legendary gold is buried. Along the way they ally themselves with an American group operating along the same lines, and before you can say “Karloff!” they've accidentally unleashed the titular baddie. Make no mistake -- this Mummy is an effects film all the way. Early incarnations of the mummy as he seeks to rebuild his corporeality look something like a Todd McFarlane Spawn action figure, though as he garners more fleshy substance (by ingesting the life force of the hapless Yanks who disturbed his crypt) he come to look strikingly like … Yul Brynner! Sommers is just getting started here, though, and soon follow plagues, more mummies, devilish sandstorms, and whatnot. It's a whale of a Saturday matinee for kids (the film carries a PG-13 rating), almost entirely bloodless, but adults may choke on some of the wooden, ominous dialogue. Fraser proves once again that he's the most amiable actor working today, while Hannah, and especially Deep Rising alumnus O'Connor, provide much comic relief. The whole show feels like it should be unspooling alongside The Phantom or The Rocketeer at the summertime grindhouse of your choice; not a bad thing at all, but also not one likely to steal Karloff's thunder.