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Wednesday, June 6, 2001

WHEN HELL BREAKS LOOSE

It's deja vu all over again



The Mummy Returns

Rating: * * * Japanese title: Hamunaputora 2Director: Stephen Sommers Running time: 129 minutes Language: EnglishNow showing at Shibutoh Cine Theater and other theaters

One of the better summer flicks of recent years was 1999's "The Mummy," which was everything that this sort of film should be: fast-paced, silly and genuinely fun. The filmmakers spent their money wisely, on swirling sandstorms and labyrinthine pyramids, while getting some likably tongue-in-cheek performances from Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in the leads.

Brendan Fraser and Dwayne Johnson in "The Mummy Returns"

The movie's better-than-expected showing at the box office proved that the "Indiana Jones" market was there for the taking, so it's no surprise that director Stephen Sommers is back with a sequel, "The Mummy Returns." As you might guess from the generic title, it's pretty much more of the same, but if creepy-crawly crypts full of black scorpions and vast armies of jackal-headed undead sacking all known civilization are what you need, look no further.

"The Mummy Returns" picks up where the first film left off, and it sure doesn't waste any time idling -- this one shifts straight into overdrive. A flashback to ancient times shows how the feared barbarian Scorpion King (WWF wrestler Dwayne Johnson, a k a The Rock) made a pact with the black god Anubis, unleashing an army of darkness that terrorized the land until the Scorpion King's soul was sucked into the underworld. There he lies until someone awakens him.

Cue adventurer Rick and archaeologist Evelyn (Fraser and Weisz), our plucky heroes from the first film, who are now married and working as a team, along with their son Alex (Freddy Boath). While exploring a temple crypt, Evelyn has a strong feeling of deja vu -- a past-life memory as an Egyptian princess -- and is involuntarily led to a hidden chamber. There she finds a chest with the emblem of the Scorpion King. "No harm ever came from opening a chest," she says cheerfully, to which Rick responds, "No harm ever came from reading a book, and we all know how that one turned out."

Sure enough, she opens it and all hell breaks loose. Rick and Evelyn escape back to London with the cursed bracelet of the Scorpion King, but they have a nasty posse on their heels: an evil Egyptian sorcerer, his legion of expendable lackeys and the resurrected evil priest Imhotep (the dreaded mummy from the first film). These baddies kidnap Alex, who has managed to get the Scorpion King's bracelet stuck on his wrist, and spirit him off to a secret oasis harboring the lost temple of Anubis. There they plan to use the bracelet to raise an army of undead and usher in the apocalypse. You know, the usual bad-guy stuff.

Brendan Fraser has his vintage Harrison Ford shtick down to a T, while Rachel Weisz is, well, Rachel Weisz and can make even the corniest line sizzle. The kid, however, was a bad idea: Boath is one of those sitcom smart-mouths, about as annoying as Jake Lloyd in "The Phantom Menace." The big pleasure in "The Mummy" series is the exotic allure of its long-lost place and time, and Boath's lines, with their '90s TV attitude, jar: Try to imagine a British schoolboy of the '20s or '30s watching his parents kiss and telling them, "Geez, get a room!"

Like the first film, though, when the special-effects boys get on a roll, there's no stopping them. Most impressive is a sequence where four undead warriors emerge from an urn of ashes in the British Museum and tear after Rick and Evelyn, scuttling along the walls of London's streets in a virtuoso blast of computer graphics. For more flesh-and-blood thrills, the svelte swordplay between Princess Nefertiri (Weisz) and evil consort Ankh Sun Amun (Patricia Velasquez) packs a potent punch.

Not all the action sequences are so inspired: When the Egyptian baddies are ripped apart in tall grass by small, speedy demons, anyone who's seen the velociraptors in "Jurassic Park 2" will be having their own bout of deja vu. More egregious is when Imhotep conjures up a vast mile-high wall of water that forms into the shape of his face and attempts to swallow our airborne heroes whole. Not only is this a by-the-numbers rip of the best sequence from "The Mummy," it also ends with Rick and Evelyn getting swallowed! How they survive this, we never find out, as the film doesn't bother to explain.

Where "The Mummy" was a pastiche -- combining classic adventure yarns with "Indiana Jones"-like serial-movie tropes and splatterific Sam Raimi undead -- "The Mummy Returns" is a pastiche of a pastiche. It does the trick, though, with enough laughs and thrills to get by. At least it never commits the cardinal sin of taking itself too seriously; there's a thin line between silly and lame, and go see the ludicrously earnest "Dungeons and Dragons" later this month if you want to know the difference.



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