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.