Director: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Kevin J. O’Connor, Oded Fehr, Jonathan Hyde, Corey Johnson, Omid Djalli, Stephen Dunham, Erick Avari, Tuc Watkins and Arnold Vosloo
Plot: An ambitious Egyptologist (Weisz) sets out to hunt down a mythical, forbidden book, accidentally awakening a great evil in the process.
I cannot imagine the creators of Boris Karloff’s 1932 film, The Mummy, imagining a future where this film was released, a loose reworking of that cult horror classic.
Sometimes a movie audience deserve to have a bit of fun. A story about a malevolent monster awakening from the dead could have easily been a straight-faced drama. Early beats suggest how easy this direction would have been, a prelude showing Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep as a mortal priest, being punished for falling in love with the wrong woman. As he is released from his cursed death and begins transforming his victims into dusty, mummified corpses, the Mummy has the power to be surprisingly terrifying. The Mummy itself is a horrific sight to behold, one vision that haunted this critic when he watched it at an early age. Skeletal, eyes bulging and unstoppable, when the Mummy is not looking like Arnold Vosloo and more of a rotting creature from the depths of Egypt, he is a scary figure to lead the film with, especially as the first half of his plot sees him promise to kill four of the lead characters and brutally follow up on that promise. One of the best visuals of this film is when the Mummy sends the sands of Egypt after Frasier’s O’Connell character, as he flies a plane to the climax. The sands soaring over the desert, the face of Imhotep visible in the mass of deadly sandstorm is a perfect symbolism for the pure power that the heroes of this film are taking on. Yet despite the easy direction that a direct drama or even horror would have been, Sommers plays his vision of the film as a swash-buckling adventure movie with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek. The heroes are loveable and humouristic. The gags come thick and fast, assaulting the audience with moments that simply make you smile. As famous movie critic, Robert Ebert said of the film, there isn’t really a single bit of this film that a critic can praise whole-heartedly, but it is hard to deny that it is a film that is never dull and often plasters a goofy grin across your face.
While that statement is somewhat true, I do think there is enough to comment positively to make The Mummy feel more than a happy accident. The characters are stereotypes stapled together, true, but some fine performances pull them back. It depends what you feel equates to a good performance: something bound to make you throw academy awards at an actor, or a role that simply drags you in and accentuates the film. If the latter works for you, then The Mummy will not offer any problems. For example, there are some Middle-Eastern stereotypes that can only come out of a 1999 movie, but charming performances from the likes of Omid Djalli make it feel like a gentle joking, rather than ignorant screen-writing. The three leads could have been disastrous career-destroyers, but Frasier, Weisz and Hannah are far too talented to let that happen. Frasier takes a role that on script was probably a generic American action movie stock figure and adds a slice of humour. Much like a more modern Chris Pratt, Frasier isn’t afraid to be just self-depreciating enough to show himself as an amusingly flawed hero, but never too much so he loses his action movie cool. Weisz, clipped English accent and the role of simpering helpless heroine, could have been an embarrassingly vapid entry to the film, but Weisz’s charisma saves her. She is far from the usual perfect female that these movies throw into the mix. Instead, she is clumsy, intelligent, socially awkward and, most importantly, totally convicted in what she does. It is easy to see why Frasier’s O’Connell falls in love with her as soon as he sets eyes on her. John Hannah, perhaps the actor with the most impressive back history here, is lumped with the role of simply bringing the comedy. But hell, he does it so well, landing the best laughs of the entire movie. “Did I panic? I think not.” The only actor who really has room to complain is Arnold Vosloo. While I love the actor’s work, it must be admitted that the Mummy is far more exciting when he is a CGI monster. Speaking of the special effects, that is one area where the Mummy excels, the top of its field. With movies as dated as ones made in 1999, we expect some dated visuals. There is nothing as such here in Sommers blockbuster action. This is a movie that is made or broken by its computer generated imagery, almost every scene featuring some form of technical wizardry: curses floating around tombs, swarms of deadly scarabs ripping extras to pieces, mummified zombies crawling up the walls, chasing their victims. The Mummy, watched in the 21st century, doesn’t just hold up to today’s competition, but still impresses with it. While the acting and script is hard to compliment specifically, the special effects team deserve a standing ovation.
Final Verdict: While it is hard to pinpoint what makes the Mummy so fun, it undeniably is a prize-winner entertainer.