| *** Stars
Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah
Directed by Stephen Sommers
Writing credits: Stephen Sommers
Universal * 120 minutes
Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) is a French Foreign Legion type who comes upon the lost Egyptian city of Hamunaptra, which is believed to be cursed, as a result of the misdeeds of Pharaoh Seti I's high-priest, Imhotep. Entrusted by Pharoah himself to prepare the dead and grant them safe passage to the afterlife, Imhotep (so the story goes) fell into a passionate love affair with Seti's beautiful (and scantily clad) mistress, Anck-Su-Namun. When their affair was discovered, they murdered Seti. Anck-Su-Namun kills herself, but Imhotep was condemned to a fate worse than death -- to be wrapped in mummifying bandages while alive and then entombed in a sarcophagus, along with several thousand ravenous Scarab beetles, to suffer eternal torture. For centuries, he lies in wait for the day that he will rise again, take human form and avenge his curse.
O'Connor meets up cute with Evelyn Carnarvon, a brilliant but inept Egyptologist who lives the glories of ancient Egypt vicariously through the Cairo Museum of Antiquities library. Together, along with Evelyn's ne'er-do-well twit brother (John Hannah, last seen in Gwyneth Paltrow's first Phony British Accent flick SLIDING DOORS) and a ragtag team of American adventurers, they defy an army of fierce Tuareg Horsemen (led by the scrumptious and exotic Oded Fehr) to discover Egypt's most horrific secret.
Fraser, an accomplished and increasingly interesting young actor, is clearly in this one just for fun after his electrifying turn in GODS AND MONSTERS. His O'Connor is yet another affable, hunky Brendan Fraser doofus. Here, he is Harrison Ford by way of Tom Hanks, and does the Indiana Jones bit perfectly, right down to the studly, yet self-deprecating smile. He is brave, yet chicken, full of bravado, but knows when to run. With DUDLEY DO-RIGHT, a role he was born to play, due out later this year, Fraser's career is clearly at a fork in the road -- he can continue to do a marvelous job portraying live-action cartoons, or he can explore more serious roles and stretch his talent. And at well over six feet tall, his legs may just be long enough for him to take both routes.
Rachel Weisz (SWEPT FROM THE SEA), a breathtakingly beautiful young actress with a lovely Semitic nose, is more than adequate as Evelyn, and actually credible as half-English; half-Egyptian. She may not be much of an actress here, but it's the sort of cheesy quasi-leading lady performance that was the hallmark of the breed of 1930's horror/adventure movies to which this film pays tribute. Weisz looks spectacular in her black eyeliner that never runs, and her Banana Republic boots, and black long-sleeved dress in which she never perspires, and which never shows a speck desert dust. Her role, played in the original by Zita Johann, has been updated to that of a librarian and Egyptologist. It's a refreshing throwback to the spunky Karen Allen role in the original RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, rather than the shrieking damsel-in-distress of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM or the malevolent Nazi/dominatrix of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. She's scholarly and brave, impecabbly dressed and coiffed, and never loses her cool. Whatta gal!
The film also boasts a supporting cast of top-flight actors. Two TITANIC survivors appear -- the marvelous Bernard Fox, last seen as Colonel Archibald Gracie, as Winston Havelock, a veddy British explorer/adventurer, and Jonathan Hyde, last seen as the odious J. Bruce Ismay, is here as an Egyptologist. Omid Djalili is hilarious as the prison warden who, in return for releasing O'Connell, insists on twenty percent of the expedition's proceeds. It's the obligatory Fat Funny Sidekick role that otherwise would have cried out for Nathan Lane, or at the very least, John Rhys-Davies, who played this sort of character in RAIDERS. South African actor Arnold Vosloo, as the hulking Imhotep, has the dark, smirking, menacing demeanor of a steroidal Billy Zane on a particularly bad day. It's an over-the-top role, and a deliciously over-the-top portrayal.
Adrian Biddle's cinematography is spectacular. The ancient scenes are just glorious, and the entire film is cast in a yellow-gold glow -- even in the caverns. A scene of a cavern full of ancient Egyptian gold artifacts even recalls Charles Foster Kane's postmortem tag sale. Industrial Light and Magic does it again with some way-cool special effects, and aside from some blatantly cheesy shots that must have been intentional (such as the camel ride against the obviously-filmed backdrop), it's two hours of visual candy. Yes, it's an Indiana Jones ripoff -- but so what? Indiana Jones is a PERILS OF PAULINE ripoff. Yes, it should be about fifteen minutes shorter -- but so what? It's well-executed and fun -- the perfect popcorn movie to start the summer. It's got something for everyone -- action for the kids, violence for the guys, romance for the chicks, effects for the Fandom Menace crowd. In a year without the upcoming George Lucas Tidal Wave, this would have been THE Big Summer Movie.
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