‘The Mummy’ (2017) review: A misplaced sense of adventure

Tom Cruise aside, there’s little point to this remake

The 1999 version of “The Mummy,” starring one hunky and slightly inept Brendan Fraser and one nerd-hot and surprisingly competent Rachel Weisz, is a family favorite of mine. Even as a kid, I found the film’s strange mix of action and charm to be quirky and entertaining. It was just the right amount of beat-’em-up, awesome Egyptian lore and hero-saves-the-day nonsense.

The 2017 version of “The Mummy,” this time starring the far-too-capable and roguish Tom Cruise, possesses almost none of those endearing charms. It wants to be serious, but its too many off-the-mark moments of brevity distract. It tries to convince us that Cruise’s protagonist is unflinchingly selfish while equally capable of being the sacrificing hero. By the end of the 110-minute globe-trotting adventure, there’s more than a bit of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde going on around here.

Speaking of, “The Mummy,” directed by Alex Kurtzman, serves as more than just an ill-advised re-imagining. It’s the first entry in Universal Studios’ “Dark Universe,” a Marvel-esque cinematic universe that will feature classic monsters from Universal’s vault in the coming years. (“The Invisible Man” and “Bride of Frankenstein” have been announced already.) However, if this is supposed to be the opening salvo, “The Mummy” clearly missed the mark.

And let’s get into why that is, shall we? Welcome Nick Morton (Cruise), a former soldier who’d rather loot precious antiquities in modern-day Iraq than protect citizens against ISIS-like insurgents. His quest leads him, after an intense firefight, and his partner-in-crime, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) to stumble across an ancient Egyptian tomb. However, not everything is as it seems. The tomb is in fact a complex prison for Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a princess who’d rather commit murder and try to summon Set, the God of Death, than give up her power. It’s safe to say (thanks, trailers) that Ahmanet escapes her five-millennia entombment and causes chaos in both the Middle East and Britain and it’s up to Morton and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) to save the world.

From start to finish, the plot structure simply is too loose, lacking coherence to either an internal consistency or a larger universe.

The latter mainly serves its own purpose, with Russell Crowe taking the central role of Dr. Henry Jekyll. (Need I say more?) Jekyll is the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe, and it’s clear this character (which Crowe obviously had a lot of fun playing) is meant to connect future releases within the same story line.

The former loses steams almost as soon as the crew unearths Ahmanet, with crusaders, monsters and curses flying around without much bringing it back together. Oh, and the undead. There’s lot of them doing their zombie-like nonsense throughout the film.

And while I enjoyed Cruise’s portrayal, I’m less enamored with what the film was trying to do with him. Almost as schizophrenic as Jekyll, Kurtzman’s direction has Cruise bouncing between being his typical all-American hero and a surprisingly selfish anti-hero with a heart of gold hidden deep, deep down. There’s nothing wrong with a more complex type of lead, but these dueling personalities result in confusion rather than a deeper comprehension. It’s as if the movie wants to portray the mostly shirtless Cruise one way and then another, all the while having us root for him.

But while most of the film left me unimpressed, I will say the graphics didn’t. From massive sandstorms to lumbering skeletons brought back to life, “The Mummy’s” visual effects clearly were where the money was spent.

In the end, “The Mummy” gives little reason for its own resurrection. It fails to serve as an interesting introduction to Universal’s Dark Universe, and it doesn’t particularly entertain as a monster movie in and of itself. It has its moments (if you pay attention, you may even see some tributes to the 1999 version), and there are worst ways to spend two hours. But if it came down to watching Cruise be his charming self in a truly lackluster movie or leaving this film buried deep underground, surrounded by mercury and never to see the light of day again, it wouldn’t be hard to choose.

Two “Some things are better left dead” stars out of five.

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