A so-so sequel

Brendan Fraser is considering a roasted nuts endorsement deal after <i>The Mummy Returns.</i>

Brendan Fraser is considering a roasted nuts endorsement deal after The Mummy Returns.

Rated 2.0

Give The Mummy Returns high marks for trying. It’s certainly packed with wannabe thrill attempts. The problem is that while the film runs for more than two hours and hardly ever stops for a breath, it leaves nothing memorable in its wake.

The movie is basically a rehash of 1999’s fun The Mummy, with the special effects quotient turned way up. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz return to once again do battle with the evil mummy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) and a few new baddies, chief among them being the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson, better known as the WWF’s The Rock).

The film opens with a decent enough battle scene set 5,000 years in the past, with the Scorpion King being thrown into some sort of purgatory until somebody in the future is kind enough to open up some spooky book and start blathering all that spirit-summoning psychobabble. Yes, this is one of those movies featuring countless nimrods chanting incantations to summon evil spirits, who will more than likely tear their arms out of their sockets. This one even has a kid doing it.

A bunch of high-priest, blathering-idiot types summon the spirit of Imhotep back to life in preparation for a death match with the Scorpion King, a moment that certainly is something to look forward to, but it never really happens.

Instead, we just get a lot of those man-eating bugs from the original movie and a bunch of computer-animated mummy warriors bouncing around, looking not even remotely realistic.

American movies containing special effects are all becoming the bastard love children of Who Framed Roger Rabbit: live humans running around with a bunch of cartoons. This is the second movie I’ve seen in a week (after Sly Stallone’s Driven) where the computer animations are distracting, rather than integral parts of the film.

Besides the makers of the Jurassic Park franchise (which has a chance to blow it with this summer’s second sequel), nobody has really managed to make us miss miniatures and matte paintings with their videogame look-alikes. I kept expecting The Mummy Returns to come to a dead halt, and the words “TO CONTINUE THIS MOVIE, INSERT 2 QUARTERS” to grace the screen.

How do directors expect us to be scared or impressed when the images they use present no sense of realism? Part of the fun in watching a movie used to be picturing a film crew working on a set to create movie magic. Now, I just think of some computer geek staring blankly at a screen, sipping a cappuccino and downloading files.

While he helped make the 1999 film goofy and enjoyable, Brendan Fraser is a non-entity this time out. It’s as if writer-director Stephen Sommers told Fraser to drop his goofy shtick (a major part of his appeal) and grow up. There are moments when Fraser seems to be lowering his voice intentionally in an attempt to be more mature. His performance seems half-assed and artificial, rendering him useless and bland, which is unfortunate for an actor with his charisma.

The movie has a few winning moments. The best sequence involves Fraser and friends trying to escape some mummy warriors while riding a double-decker bus, with the unyielding creatures running on the sides of buildings to get at the vehicle. Oded Fehr makes a welcomed return as a spiritual warrior and protector, who has a very sad mishap with his pet.

Positive aspects considered, there isn’t enough going on in The Mummy Returns to justify your seeing it. The film raked in $70 million in its first weekend, so this column is not a barometer for the masses.