Remember how badly "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" turned out when Steven Spielberg tried to wedge an impish kid into his successful archeology-action-adventure formula? Well, deja vu.
How pathetically contrived and sadly unoriginal is the obviously rushed-into-production "The Mummy Returns"? Everything you need to know can be gleaned from these three facts: 1) Prim-but-sexy Egyptologist Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) turns out to be the reincarnation of Queen Nefertiti. 2) Lantern-jawed adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) finds out that a tattoo he bears means he was born to be a Medjai warrior. And, 3) their ragamuffin 8-year-old son Alex (Freddie Boath) is "The Chosen One" -- although the movie makes little attempt to explain what that means.
All together now: Oh, brother!
It gets worse. In the movie's early going, the curator of a London museum resurrects the evil Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo, reprising his title role) so the dusty, crusty dude can defeat another revived Egyptian called The Scorpion King. This way Imhotep can take over his vast army of rabid dog-god warriors and rule the world -- or something like that.
What's in it for the curator is never explained in any way. He's just a one-dimensional movie lackey doomed to have something gross happen to him in the last reel. Why Imhotep is suddenly bent on world domination isn't explained either. In the first movie he just wanted his girlfriend back. (By the way, she's reincarnated, too.)
The Scorpion King is played in two scenes at the beginning of the movie by WWF wrestler The Rock, whose acting is more like the Balsa Wood King. That may explain why, when his character returns later as a gigantic scorpion, even his face is a computer-generated effect -- and a pretty cheesy one at that.
We're told -- in a slap-dash prologue that is the only part of the movie reminiscent of its 1930s B-thriller roots -- that this Scorpion King sold his soul to a "dark god" to win a war. Then there's some contrived crap about how he can be brought back to life every 5,000 years with the help of a golden bracelet that magically projects IMAX-y holograms telling the wearer where to find his hidden pyramid.
To make short of the plot, the kid ends up wearing the bracelet, banshee baddies who lick up to Imhotep kidnap the kid, and Rick and Evelyn give chase to save the day. In tow once again are Evelyn's slapstick sissy of a brother (an over-acting John Hannah) and -- just because test audience women found him dreamy -- the facially-tattooed Medjai from the first movie (Oded Fehr), who was sworn to protect the secret location of Imhotep's grave but seems to be doing a pretty poor job of it.
Gone is the self-deprecating sense of humor from the swashbuckling, butt-kicking 1999 updating of the "The Mummy." This time when writer-director Stephen Sommers employs an endless string of clichés, he's totally sincere in doing it. Gone are the great and surprising special effects. In this movie the CGI is flat and lifeless, and the F/X guys shamelessly recycle that famous wall-of-sand shot from the original, not once but twice (with water and soot).
Gone are all but maybe 10 pages of plot -- it's been replaced with mindless pap filler, featuring gimmicky, smart-alec sidekicks and Evelyn's too-frequent flashbacks of her life as the Pharaoh's daughter in ancient Egypt. In these flashbacks she duels Hong Kong-style with Pharaoh's mistress (Imhotep's girlfriend, as you may recall) as part of the royal entertainment. Why would the Pharaoh find amusement in watching his cherished daughter and his beloved mistress try to kill each other? Beats me. But that's a trifling complaint compared to...The schticky dialogue ("That's a little something new I've learned," Evelyn wisecracks after head-butting her resurrected rival during the 20th Century climax)The bad acting (Hannah, The Rock, the kid) and the cinematically tricked-out fight scenes that look ridiculous in a movie set in 1933The lame countdown plot device (the bracelet will kill the kid in seven days unless he finds the Scorpion King's tomb)The liberties taken with Egyptology that even laymen will find laughable (one hieroglyphic translates as "This way to the Scorpion King")A couple annoying common sense errors ("You're the three sides of the pyramid," someone explains to the family O'Connor. Hey bonehead, a pyramid has four sides.)
Not to mention plenty of outright pillaging from the aforementioned "Indiana Jones" movies. There's even a scene in which the kid rides on the side of a falling pillar as it knocks down a tomb wall.
You'd think if Sommers was going to so blatantly rip off these flicks he would at least know better than to make a sequel co-starring a cute kid who can't act. But apparently Sommers didn't learn anything from any of the movies he mimics here -- even his own.
Stay home and rent the infinitely superior 1999 original, and let's hope Lara Croft can rescue the genre in June's "Tomb Raider" movie.