Where's the coin slot on this dang thing? You'd swear during its big battle royale finale that a message would pop up any second asking for more quarters before continuing. The Mummy Returns (2001, 130 minutes) is way more like a video game than an actual movie, which must have been clear to all involved, because the PlayStation 2 version isn't far off. But there's no shame in sequels among CineSchlockers. Heck, Jason Voorhees just wrapped Part 10. The first Mummy was a welcome surprise two summers ago. It defied the tenants of its genre. It boldly rumbled off into familiar territory in wholly unfamiliar ways with restrained humor and unfettered action. Much of its visual impact was thanks to computer wizardry, but none of its charm. That's something writer/director Stephen Sommers failed to grasp before embarking on this sometimes dazzling, yet largely lifeless sequel.
The movie: A lengthy prologue tells the story of The Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. The Rock) who rises to rule the land after making a pact with the devil. However phony, these expansive battle scenes FILL the horizon in the breathtaking fashion of classic epics like Zulu or Lawrence of Arabia. It roars to such an explosive start that most everything that follows pales by comparison. Especially when we reunite with Indiana Lite (Brendan Fraser) and his now nuclear family who tinker around in a mummy's tomb until they stir up the next action sequence. Rick and Evie (Rachel Weisz) have obviously plundered each other at least once during the last 10 years, as they've hatched their own little Short Round (John Hannah), which is apparently required for sequels of this stripe. While elsewhere the mustache-twirling director of the British Museum has fetched the carcass of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) out of the desert sand and carted him back to London for the fiendish purpose of ruling the world. Naturally. Things go haywire and we're right back to battling zombies, er, mummies. No, that's right. Mummies are wrapped and stagger with out-stretched arms. Zombies ooze and devour human flesh. So, it really should be The Zombie Returns, but forgive the digression. Precocious genius Short Round gets kidnapped because he likes wearing gaudy costume jewelry. This sends the whole flick careening off on a road trip filled with even more high-dollar animated shenanigans. CineSchlockers know The Rock only appears in this flick for about 38 seconds, as the majority of his scenes are done by Dwayne's Donkey Kong double. But don't worry, he'll be back next year to lay the smack down Ah-nold style in the swords 'n' sandals pseudo-prequel The Scorpion King. Could the movie bug turn Mr. Johnson into our next Rowdy Roddy Piper?
Notables: No breasts. Lost count at 221 corpses. Insta-oasis. Shrunken heads. Flash flooding. Heads tumble. Snake slinging. Eight million scorpions. Fire suit stunts. Two-fisted gun shooting. Falconry. Sword fighting. Quicksand. Arm munching. Cat fighting. Midget zombies.
Quotables: Isn't this fella pleasant?, "Get out of my way, or I'm going to shoot you in the face!" Ardeth Bay gets really heavy, "By putting this on you have started the chain reaction that could bring about the next apocalypse!!!" No matter what he's faced with, Rick always has a wisecrack for the occasion, "You know, a couple years ago this would have seemed really strange to me ... Oh, I hate mummies! ... Are all librarians this much trouble?!" While his boy is much more direct, "My dad is going to kick your ASS!"
Time codes: Like mother, like son (15:40). Massive brawl begins with a serpent to the face (29:20). Finally, REAL mummies re-animate (36:45). Imhotep sucks face (55:35). He's King of the World! (1:01:40). The Army of Anubis arises (1:47:50).
Audio/Video: Pristine widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. A separate fullframe release is also available for the narrow minded. Active Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track shines during the many, many fight sequences -- clanging swords and what not.
Extras: Audio commentary by director Stephen Sommers and producer Dob Ducsay. Five-minute blooper reel. Nauseating 20-minute look at the production featuring stars breathlessly touting the sequel as the mostest-bestest movie EVER (and that they all LOVE working with such geniuses). Interview with a sunglasses-clad The Rock who waxes philosophical about the differences between rasslin' and making movies. The section on the major visual effects sequences is interesting, but has been maddeningly broken into multiple clips, forcing the viewer to watch one, then click again to see another. Egyptology mumbo jumbo. Music video for Live's "Forever Might Not Be Long Enough" (to Ever Watch This Again). Incredibly lame tour of Universal's equally yawn-inspiring theme park attraction "The Mummy Returns Chamber of Doom." There's also a separate promo for Universal's theme parks. PSA for Kids Cancer Connection featuring a short-haired Oded Fehr. Trailer for the upcoming PlayStation 2 game. Teaser trailer for The Scorpion King. Cast and crew bios. Printed insert with production notes. The animated menus LOOK cool, but employ fussy transitions that'll irk impatient, or remote-clumsy viewers.
Final thought: This meandering pornography of cartoonish CGI sequences is WAY too long -- even excluding nearly 10 minutes of CREDITS. The sequel's balance of buffoonery and intense action is far less graceful than the original. Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.