Don’t blame Tom Cruise for The Mummy. His star wattage is as high as ever, and he’s well cast as a roguish man of adventure. In fact, The Mummy is actually fun to watch…for a while. But when six writers are credited for a popcorn-type movie it’s usually a sign of trouble, recalling the old axiom about too many cooks in the kitchen.

Those half-dozen writers (including such prominent names as David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Jon Spaihts, and director Alex Kurtzman) have devised an intriguing origin story with an exotic female character as the focal point (apparently the contribution of yet another writer, Jenny Lumet) and dressed it up with nifty visual effects. The problem is simple: they don’t know when to quit.

What a shame. Ignoring the abysmal Mummy movies with Brendan Fraser, and eliminating the possibility that an audience-targeted “remake” would bear any resemblance to the 1932 classic with Boris Karloff, this film has definite possibilities.

Cruise plays a devil-may-care thief who specializes in finding and fencing antiquities, with Jake Johnson as his partner in crime. When he stumbles onto an ancient Egyptian chamber buried in the Iraqi desert, archeologist Annabelle Wallis (from the British TV sleeper Peaky Blinders) tries to get him to treat the discovery with respect instead of making off with its centuries-old treasures.

Then the plot thickens, considerably. The main characters wind up in London in an underground compound presided over by Russell Crowe, whose identity as Dr. Henry Jekyll (intended as a surprise) sets up a spinoff to this story. Alternately humorous and ominous, he’s one of the bright spots in a film that grows tedious as it assaults us with a nonstop flurry of action, horror imagery, and the evolutionary development of a lethal Egyptian mummy-princess (Sofia Boutella). Visual effects alone can’t draw in an audience when a film is fatally overlong and we don’t really care about the characters. (Wallis is beautiful but her character is uninteresting and there is no spark at all between her and Cruise.)

To reintroduce its classic horror “stars,” Universal Pictures has turned to Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the writer-producer-director team whose credits include Transformers, the Star Trek reboot, and such TV shows as Alias, where they first worked with J.J. Abrams. Under the umbrella name Dark Universe, the studio expects Kurtzman and Orci to deliver the monster equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’re in for high-tech remakes of The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon, to name just a few.

As someone who grew up on those movies, I would offer one word of advice to the filmmakers, based on this cluttered remake of The Mummy: simplify.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024