THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR – FUN at first but its UNINSPIRED screenplay ultimately does it in!
If there’s one thing I got out of the first two entries in Universal’s Mummy franchise, it was why I sometimes wish CGI was never invented. No other series of big budget studio movies relied so heavily on computer generated imagery as director Stephan Sommers first two films in the series. He carried this style over to his bombastic monster movie, Van Helsing, which was 99% CGI vomit projected up on the big screen and not much more. For this third installment, Sommers takes on producing duties only with the directing honors going to Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) but it doesn’t fix the problem.
The overall plot starts off simple as the husband and wife exploring team of Rick O’Connell and Evelyn (Brendan Frasier and Maria Bello taking over for Rachel Weisz) become bored with their retirement. They are thrust back into the thick of things when they head to Shanghai after being tricked into a scheme that revives a 2000 year old emperor, played by Jet Li in a part that, unfortunately, plays like an extended cameo. At the same time, they are reacquainted with their now grown-up son Alex (Luke Ford) who has entered the family business.
Director Cohen gets things out of the gate fine as I felt both involved and entertained for the first 45 minutes or so but, like Sommers before him, Cohen ultimately falls for the temptation of solely relying on CGI effects instead of a story to move things along. That’s when things start to unwind. After a dead spot or two we’re introduced to abominable snowmen, a three-headed dragon and a never ending army of undead that’s neither overly impressive nor entertaining. Frasier, who was very effective in the first two Mummy films, seems to be going through the motions this time around and the best line the screenwriters could come up with for him is “Here we go again.” As for Bello (History of Violence), she gives it her all but doesn’t have the same chemistry that Weisz did with Frasier in prior outings (although Bello gets in a great one-liner at the story’s beginning, giving the audience a sly wink that she’s not the same actress playing the part). Luke Ford as their son is okay but his character’s personality is neither here nor there. Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) as a double-crossed Sorceress has a few good moments (one involving a sword fight with Jet Li that was good but could have been better) but she, like many here (especially Jet Li), are underused. Overall, for me, this Mummy Movie is a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the first 45 minutes, the rest of the movie sort of goes into an uninspired cruise control that ultimately makes this third entry not worth your $9 admission price. It’s far from awful but, considering its reported $175 million budget, I expected so much more! It’s only 2.5 out of 5 ZOMBIES for me.
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