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The Mummy Returns   B

Universal Pictures

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, John Hannah, Oded Fehr, Patricia Velasquez, The Rock.

Review by Rob Vaux

It's a little daunting to see a movie so eager to get going that it doesn't even bother with an opening title. Not credits. Title. "Want to know what you're seeing? NO TIME!!! Quick, watch this battle scene featuring a howling pro wrestler and a CGI army of thousands! Over here, it's Brendan Fraser fighting cadaverous warriors on a double decker bus! Look, a hyperactive catfight featuring enough triple backflips to choke Keri Strug! We've got camels! We've got blimps! We've got armies of undead pygmies! Are you not entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??!!! BWAAAAAAAAAAA!!!"

Picture two hours and 10 minutes of that and you've got some idea of what The Mummy Returns is all about. Overstuffed, complicated, and exhaustively paced, it nonetheless maintains the same sense of fun and energy that made the first film such a hit. Director Stephen Sommers packs everything and the kitchen sink into his follow-up effort. He would have done well to simplify things -- one less subplot would have gone a long way -- but it's hard to remember that when the action cranks up.

The picture picks up 10 years after the first one left off. Soldier of fortune Rick O'Connell (Fraser) and his lady love Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) have settled down in London with a precocious son (Freddie Boath) and a healthy career raiding Egyptian tombs. This wouldn't be a summer action film if they just dusted off hieroglyphics, however, and soon enough, their old nemesis Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) returns from the dead, resurrected by his reincarnated girlfriend (Patricia Velasquez) and ready to mamba. He needs a trinket Rick and Evelyn picked up in their last expedition in order to rule the world (funny, he didn't need that the last time), and sets off after them with the usual array of evil cultists and underlings in tow.

All of this gets explained in between a dizzying array of action sequences, from colossal battle scenes to death-defying swordfights with a bevy of entrapped pyramids thrown in for good measure. The plot threads pile up so fast you need a scorecard to keep up, even as the bulk of the screen time is taken up with whizzes and bangs. Sommers seems most comfortable when his characters are knee-deep in mayhem, and while he keeps the story reasonably clear, the fights and special effects hold his true love. And they work terrifically here. Besides a few unfortunate Indiana Jones rip-offs (this series clearly considers itself Indy's heir apparent) the action shines with a genuine sense of imagination. From a whimsical dirigible than runs on primitive rockets to a huge army of jackal-faced monsters, every effect feels new, which lends itself well to the film's relentless energy. Sommers compliments it with a strong sense of tongue in cheek, and clearly considers The Mummy Returns nothing more than unpretentious fun. On that level, if no other, the film soars.

But there is a lot of it. Over two hours, with hardly a chance to take a break or catch one's breath. Even the dialogue scenes can be exhausting as we struggle to keep track of all the characters and story developments. This presumably is the point -- as a cinematic pinball machine, The Mummy Returns won't have many peers this year -- but it can be too much at times. Eventually, the constant pummeling numbs the senses, and keeps us from enjoying The Mummy Returns as much as the filmmakers clearly want us to. It works fine, but you may need some depressurization time after it's all done. It's also probably a good idea to see the first film before catching this one; that way, you can just watch the fireworks without worrying about keeping score.

Fraser displays his usual effortless charm (it helps to have the best lines) and the returning cast members all seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, from John Hannah's twerpish comic relief to Oded Fehr's mysterious plot expositionist. Fans of the Rock should be warned -- he has nothing more than an extended cameo here, and is hardly seen after the first 10 minutes (he does eat a live scorpion, though). But besides that debatable hiccup, The Mummy Returns has everything a sugar-addled 12-year-old could possibly want.

I'll leave it to you to decide if that's a good or a bad thing.

Review published 05.07.2001.

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