Ever since the end of WWII, the rough riding O'Connell Family -- Rick (Brendan Fraser), Evelyn (Maria Bello, subbing for Rachael Weisz), and college age son Alex (Luke Ford) -- have been in semi-retirement. Gone are the days when they would circumnavigate the globe looking for ancient treasure and kicking antiquated butt. When they get the chance to return a precious diamond to the people of China, they jump at the chance. Unfortunately, the gem is instrumental in the resurrection of the evil Emperor Han (Jet Li), a ruthless tyrant bent on conquering the world. Luckily, an ancient witch (Michelle Yeoh) has cursed him to an eternity embedded in rock. Of course, it won't be long before our haphazard adventurers have him up and around -- and seeking immortality via his massive terra cotta army.
Borrowing every beat it can from the entire Indiana Jones lexicon, and lost in waves of pungent cinematic cheese, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is the latest in a long line of "who asked for it" three-quels as talent paycheck providers. It's a routine romp which owes more to the modern technology of today than the giddy joys of the '30s serials it constantly steals from. How can you defend a film which wastes the undeniable talents of Li and Yeoh and then allows CGI yetis to upstage them both and become the stars of the story? You heard right: Fake as faux fur Abominable Snowmen show up during the second act and become ferocious fuzzy-wuzzy bodyguards for our heroes. They even know the practical way to avoid an avalanche.
Rob Cohen, whose resume all but mandates this kind of slipshod spectacle, has no control over his narrative. He wastes time on unimportant subplots (who cares about the O'Connells' home life?) and massive expositional exchanges (the opening is 20 minutes of voiced-over mock mythology). Even worse, he cribs from the bloated visual excess of franchise founder Stephen Sommers (who only produced here). During the final confrontation, what looks like every corpse in China takes on a garrison of walking clay effigies so massive it must have taken every motherboard in Silicon Valley to render. Of course, all this computer pomposity has to result in something else being sacrificed. In the case of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, it's character, logic, fun, excitement, and a sense of popcorn escapism.
A movie that tries this hard is bound to pull a good time groin muscle or two, and when Sommers was directing the mayhem, one could at least make sense of the stuntwork. Here, Cohen completely loses us in quick cut action, his editing frequently ruining the rhythm of a fight. This is especially true when Li and Yeoh throw down. These amazing martial artists are known for their swordplay and physical grace. Now, the only evidence of said acumen resides in our memories of better Hong Kong movies past. When you long for the days of Arnold Vosloo and the endless machismo of Imhotep, you know something sucks. Oddly enough, at several points throughout the film, a character will take a moment and shriek "I hate mummies." Frankly, for the audience, the feeling is more than mutual.
No time for love, Dr. Jones.
Run time: 112 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st August 2008
Box Office USA: $102.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $401.1M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Sommers Company, The, Alphaville Films, China Film Co-Production Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 13%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 148
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Brendan Fraser as Richard O'Connell, Jet Li as Emperor Han, John Hannah as Jonathan Carnahan, Maria Bello as Evelyn O’Connell, Luke Ford as Alex O'Connell, Michelle Yeoh as Zi Juan, Isabella Leong as Lin, Anthony Wong as General Yang, Russell Wong as Ming Guo, Liam Cunningham as Maguire, David Calder as Roger Wilson, Jessey Meng as Choi, Tian Liang as Li Zhou, Albert Kwan as Chu Wah, Jacky Wu as Assassin (as Wu Jing)
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