I recently saw a trailer for a Tom Cruise movie that excited me. The film looked fascinating as it put the actor in a challenging role that dares me not to like him. I was interested to see how Cruise will handle it not just as a mega-watt movie star, but as an actor. That film was not The Mummy.

    This newest reboot is, above all else, a strange failure. It stillborns a planned Dark Universe (based on Universal’s monster movies) with a first film that is jarring in tone, story and performances. It’s one of the worst things Tom Cruise has done in the last fifteen years, and I say that as someone who watched him couch-jump on Oprah

    Cruise plays Nick Morton here, but he might as well be called Tom Cruise, because he’s the exact same action hero we’ve seen out of Tom for the past seven years. He’s a badass always fit enough to run from explosions, and strong enough to punch out villains. As Morton, Cruise also throws in some cockiness reminiscent of his Top Gun peak.

    But you know what? He’s getting too old for this. Cruise, with his hair starting to gray, mainly looks confused by this whole film. Nick Morton being a cocky adventurer isn’t a bad idea, but seeing Cruise surrounded by  supporting characters all at least 15 years younger than him makes me realize it would’ve been so much more effective if it was done by a different actor that's not as old.

    But bless him, Cruise tries so hard to make this mess work. The Mummy is the first time I’ve watched a film and noticed an actor physically straining to make poor dialogue still sound good. The script (written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman), shows a film stuck in a dilemma; is it a horror-comedy, or an action movie with scares?

    Consider the Chris Vail character, played by Jake Johnson. He’s Morton’s sidekick that bites the dust in the first thirty minutes. Vail then returns as an undead zombie, trying to convince Morton to work with the Mummy and take over the world. These scenes have a strange feel to them, like someone remade An American Werewolf in London and stripped out the laughs.

    Even scenes with the titular Mummy (Sofia Boutella) flux awkwardly between being funny or scary. They’re supposed to be thrilling, but director Alex Kurtzman can’t even make crashing vehicles seem exciting. I watched him fail at it three times here (with a plane, van and bus).

    The plot has mumbo-jumbo about an Egyptian princess who was mummified after murdering her royal family. Morton is stupid enough to enter the tomb and get cursed by her. 

    For a film that’s pretty short (107 minutes), we get a ridiculous number of scenes that drag. Consider the length, and that means I’m talking about every one of them. Unnecessary flashbacks reign over, as if Kurtzman felt the need to end all sentences with exclamation points when he only needed periods.  

    It’s also stuffed with would-be world building, as the “Dark Universe” logo in the beginning indicates. Morton meets Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who acts as the Nick Fury of this monster world. He tracks down threats to humanity with his small army and kills them. Because he knows that Morton is cursed, Jekyll decides that he must die as well.

    Crowe, being the pro that he is, must know that this is all stupid garbage, because that’s the way he treats it here. He hams it up like a hog, clashing with Cruise in a fight that feels underwhelming considering it’s between two of the biggest stars of the last 15 years.

    This world-building, dumb as it is, takes over the second half of The Mummy. In other words, we go from an unfunny action film/An American Werewolf in London rip-off to a Marvel wannabe. How can you build a universe if no one cares about it? The Mummy answers that question with a resounding “you can’t.”

    We get allusions to Nick being a “good person”, but the script can’t figure out what he’s supposed to be doing. Even the big sacrifice at the end is muddled with confusion. Without spoiling too much, you wonder what set of rules Kurtzman is playing by, and why he keeps changing them.

    This is one of the worst films of the year, but it’s not astoundingly bad in a way that jumps out at you. Rather, it’s awful in almost a workmanlike way, steadily throwing in bad direction, baffling narrative choices, poor performances and an assumption you want to see a sequel to all of it. By the end of it, you’re left with an insufferable package that has inflicted pain on you, and promises more of it.

    Universal hasn’t just put the cart before the horse on this series; they’ve paved out the entire road and built a castle to stroll in on. A Bride of Frankenstein reboot is already slated for 2019. Johnny Depp will play the Invisible Man in another film, and Javier Bardem was cast as Frankenstein’s monster. All of this preparation on the hopes that The Mummy would be a smashing summer joyride.

    It wasn’t, and I’m not looking forward to more of this. Turn off whatever lights are left in this Dark Universe.

    Post Script: The trailer I saw before this was for a film called “American Made”. It looks terrific. Cruise might want to consider more films like that.

Published by Jagger Czajka