If you’ve got adolescent boys in the house, you’ll want to run right out and rent The Mummy. Universal’s affable update of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic is guaranteed to keep them occupied and out of your gun cabinet for two hours. You can, if you’re so inclined, consider The Mummy a sitter on call — a very, very successful sitter that has raked in about $155 million theatrically; a surprise hit whose boffo opening last May foretold the highest moneymaking summer-movie season in history.
Not only is this sitter rich, it’s sexy, what with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz starring as adventurers running around 1920s Egypt in search of the lost city of Hamunaptra. The seductive Weisz plays a saucy, brainy Egyptologist who employs the saucy, brawny Fraser to help her find it. You know this is a bad idea because Hamunaptra is also known as the City of the Dead, and the film’s prologue gives you a sense of its history: In 1290 b.c., a beefy, evil priest (WWF-ready Arnold Vosloo) was buried alive there, complete with flesh-eating scarabs, after diddling the pharaoh’s knockout mistress (Patricia Velasquez, wearing what looks like Cher’s underwear).
Before Fraser and Weisz make the horrible mistake of waking the not-quite-dead evil priest (he’s the Mummy, by the way), they cross paths and have cross words with a group of American treasure hunters so good-looking they could be in an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, and so doomed they could’ve been in Fraser’s latest movie, Dudley Do-Right.
Instead of wrapping Vosloo in gauze for the Mummy’s big comeback, writer-director Stephen Sommers employed Industrial Light & Magic to turn him into a decaying (but still sort of slimy) skeleton. The movie’s big on lavish special effects and even bigger on teen-friendly gross-outs, so the Mummy starts stealing other people’s body parts to regenerate himself (eventually, he turns back into Arnold Vosloo and puts on a fetching little chain-mail skirt thingy, which also could’ve come from Cher’s underwear drawer). The Mummy’s not too smart, it turns out, because when it comes time to shop for a new pair of eyes, he plucks them from the head of Tuc Watkins, the former soap hunk and a star of Showtime’s Beggars and Choosers who appears here as a grave robber with really bad eyesight. Watkins does have pretty eyes, though, so perhaps the Mummy decides it’s better to look good than to look well.
Then again, you could argue that The Mummy is just stupid. It’s an inoffensive, high-camp romp, but the period setting, the old-fashioned adventure, and the Ralph Laurenish safari wear invite unfortunate comparisons to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was far more thrilling and far more clever. To wit: After the Mummy swipes the faulty eyes, he seems to see just fine, and the movie thereby misses the opportunity for some raucous Mr. Magooey gags, which I, for one, never tire of.
The good news for Universal (which is now mining its vaults for more horror classics to remake) is that The Mummy actually plays better on the small screen than it did on the big one. Yes, some of the splashier effects, like a giant sand face snapping at a biplane, need a larger canvas, but your TV will be more forgiving of the silly dialogue, which is no better or worse than your average miniseries. And it should be said that no one handles this kind of stuff with more aplomb than Fraser. Handsome in a funny way, swaggering in a goofy way, Fraser gooses the movie with his deft comic timing. (In turn, The Mummy’s success has goosed his asking price to $10 million per film.) It’s a good thing the Mummy didn’t go looking for a funny bone, because if he did, Fraser would be a dead duck.