Ever since computers have given filmmakers the tools to expand the realm of the believable on-screen, this technology has offered these same auteurs an all too tempting crutch: Take an inarticulate and bumbling script, add special effects up the wazoo and presto – you have a box-office smash.
Writer/director Stephen Sommers has employed this formula with profitable results in “The Mummy Returns,” which grossed over $68 million in its first weekend. While Brendon Fraser, Rachel Weisz and the WWF’s The Rock may be the flesh stars of the movie, whatever entertainment the film provides comes from visual effects maestro John Berton. A movie poster truly indicative of the film’s merits would feature his face (whatever he looks like) superimposed over the actors’ faces. After all, without Berton’s limitless cache of amazing visual techniques, this sequel’s skin would show itself as it is: A juvenile and forgettable movie wholly caught in its desire to loudly entertain its viewer.
Purveyors of the idea that you can’t have a good movie with a bad script will find fresh ammunition with “The Mummy Returns.” Sommers’ dialogue is so cheesy, so filled with bland one-liners and fluff that one can almost picture Fraser, Weisz and company rolling their eyes off-screen. Just as some of us only feel comfortable doing certain embarrassing activities under the cover of inebriation, these actors seem to only feel comfortable delivering their lines comfortably if they overact.
The plot is stupid and utterly pointless, so I’ll try to condense it: Picking up eight years after 1999’s “The Mummy” ended (which pulled in $414 million worldwide), Rick O’Connell (Fraser) and Evelyn (Weisz) are now happily married, living in London and raising their curious little son, Alex (Freddie Boath). Meanwhile, back in Egypt, a group bent on world domination has exhumed the body of Imhotep (killed by Rick and Evelyn in the first “Mummy”) and brought it back to the British Museum in London, where they bring him back to life. After a slapstick combat scene with Rick, Evelyn and their trusty desert sage Ardeth (Oded Fehr), Imhotep and his followers kidnap cute little Alex and bring him with them to Egypt. It is here that Imhotep will try and summon up the powers of The Scorpion King (The Rock) and conquer the world for the powers of evil. Yes, it does sound familiar: Sommers’ plot has an uncanny resemblance to an episode of “G.I. Joe.” At one point, The Rock raises his fist and yells, “Cobbbrrrrraaaaaaaa!” Well, actually he doesn’t, but I was hoping he would.
To its credit, expensive productions like “The Mummy Returns” always have a lot of nice scenery to take in, and this one is no different. Allan Cameron’s production designs are superb in their detail and glamour and provide an attractive backdrop for the mundane unfoldings on-screen. As the action shifts into Egypt, Berton steals the show as he superimposes The Rock’s face onto a surging river and creates terrifying skeletal pygmies, mummy warriors and all kinds of insects you hope you never come across.
While Berton’s work might give him a sweep of the special effects awards at the Oscars, there’s no way it saves this otherwise silly, overdone and abominably acted film. Besides, when’s the last time a PG-13 movie was any good?