"The Mummy" Stakes Claim To Worst Of Summer 2017

Tom Cruise, the reliable blockbuster horse that he is, has once again done the impossible. He’s followed up his worst film (“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”) with… his worst film.

Oops.

The A-lister’s new nadir, “The Mummy,” went into production with every hope of being a backboard-shattering slam dunk, a crowd-pleasing horror romp to set off Universal’s new monster series “Dark Universe.” Instead, it’s the would-be franchise’s second false start (after 2014’s “Dracula Untold”); an opening firework gone rogue, loop-de-looping back on the whole batch before the show’s even begun. With a little help from director Alex Kurtzman – okay, a lot of help – the entire thing’s already up in flames.

Cruise plays blowhard treasure hunter Nick Morton, the kind of stock action movie lead that speaks in clichés and thrives on rubbery facial expressions. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” he drolly asks partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) just before getting him killed. But Chris’ ignominiously early death isn’t the worst thing to come from Nick’s recklessness. No, it’s Chris’ terrible, no-good presence as a spirit haunting Nick with klutzy one-liners that really grates. Johnson, gifted comic actor that he is, deserves so much better.

On Nick’s preordained journey from poacher to martyr, he accidentally uncovers the 12th century tomb of the evil Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), subsequently unleashing one very angry demigod into the ether. With Ahmanet on the warpath, Nick and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) find themselves running to and then from the title character, guided by a rote undercurrent of romance. Once Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll gets involved, the rickety narrative breaks down entirely, relying on endless flashbacks (Nick is possessed by Ahmanet for no reason in particular) and weary action beats punctuated by subpar special effects.

Brendan Fraser’s three-film “Mummy” run now seems absolutely vital by comparison, its modest thrills given new life by Alex Kurtzman’s abomination. The “Star Trek” scribe-turned-director and the six writers with either a screenplay or “story by” credit can’t manage a single thrill, guilty or otherwise, suppressing the title character’s legacy in favor of dour visuals and childish plotting. Even the reviled Hugh Jackman-starrer “Van Helsing” had a great deal more fun to offer than this reboot, having the good sense to dial up some much-needed campiness. But the folks involved in “The Mummy” 2017 seem to think “Van Helsing” was too much fun, maintaining the general inanity and jettisoning everything else.

The silver lining here is that there is no silver lining, meaning the project’s overwhelming ineptitude might be enough to stop the “Dark Universe” dead in its tracks. The way in which the picture teases other Universal Monsters is so cynical that it borders insulting – Look, a vampire skull in a jar! – dovetailing with the studio’s recent announcement of the series’ propagation. Their proud declaration of future films before anyone had seen “The Mummy” arrogantly assumed an audience of undemanding zombies ready to fork over $15 for each chapter of an ill-conceived movie star monster mash.

Credit where credit is due. Kurtzman’s film is its own kind of black magic: an absolutely putrid movie without any of the fun normally associated with putrid movies. It’s bad to the bone, signaling nothing less than the roughest waters ahead for all involved. A dark universe, indeed.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: June 9, 2017
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Screenwriter: Dylan Kussman, David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity)