No Curse of the Sequel


If you’ve been looking for a film like “The Mummy Returns,” “The Mummy Returns” is the film you’ve been looking for.

A new and much improved version of 1999’s “The Mummy,” this sequel is a shrewdly conceived and efficiently executed Saturday afternoon popcorn movie. Both pleasantly old-fashioned and packed with up-to-date computer-generated special effects, the film’s constant plot turns, cheeky sensibility and omnipresent action sequences have no trouble attracting our attention and holding on.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 5, 2001 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 5, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
“Mummy” caption--In some editions of Friday’s Calendar, a caption accompanying a photo of Patricia Velasquez and Arnold Vosloo in “The Mummy Returns” misidentified Vosloo and his role as the mummy.

Appropriate for a story that pivots on reincarnation, writer-director Stephen Sommers has returned from “The Mummy,” as have stars Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, four important co-stars and the original’s key creative personnel, including producers James Jacks and Sean Daniel, cinematographer Adrian Biddle, production designer Allan Cameron and costume designer John Bloomfield.

Experience, as ads used to say, is a great teacher, and “The Mummy Returns” cast and crew benefited considerably from having that first film under their belt. Increasingly assured across the board, this sequel displays more action at a faster pace, which has the added benefit of less screen time for borderline inane dialogue. There are even fewer (but still some) of the yucky insect moments that have become one of the film’s de facto trademarks.

Perhaps most critically for a film that showcases everything from murderous soldier mummies to bad-tempered Pygmy skeletons to an infinite army of jackal-headed warriors was the decision to rehire Industrial Light & Magic’s masterful John Berton as visual effects supervisor. With press reports putting the ILM price tag alone at $20 million, “The Mummy Returns” is probably the most expensive Saturday matinee serial ever made, but the decision not to cut corners in production value was definitely a wise one.


Also back but in a bit less sophomoric form is the film’s self-referential sense of humor. “The Mummy Returns” is slick enough to make good use of both old-style lines that begin, “It is written . . .” and a final exasperated comeback that asks, “Where is all this stuff written anyway?”

Fraser, one of the few actors who can be convincing in both doofy and intrepid modes, is ideal to play soldier of fortune Rick O’Connell in this half-serious, half-jokey film set in Egypt and London in 1933.

Though no one looks a minute older, eight years have allegedly passed since the previous adventure, and O’Connell and Egyptologist Evelyn (Weisz) have taken that opportunity to marry and produce a young son named Alex (Freddie Boath).

That change in marital status benefits both stars. It enables them to demonstrate personal chemistry as a dashing Nick and Nora Charles-type couple with a son instead of a dog and avoid completely the tiresome “I hate you so much I must be in love” courtship ritual that dominated things the last time around.

Sommers, who seems to have evolved into a real Egyptology buff, has come up with a rather complex back story for “The Mummy Returns.” It begins in 3067 BC and not a year sooner and allows for a brief wordless cameo from pro wrestling star the Rock as a fearless warrior named the Scorpion King.

Defeated in an attempt to take over Egypt, the King sells his soul to Anubis, one of the gods of the Egyptian underworld, for enough jackal-headed warriors to help him gain the victories he thirsts for. But far too soon all those fighters turn into so many grains of sand, a magical army that, along with their king, can be awakened every 5,000 years and take over the Earth.

Hoping to piggyback on that phenomenon is Meela, the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez), the star-crossed lover of the terrifying mummy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), who caused so much trouble the last time around. She hopes to bring Imhotep back from the dead one last time, for if he can beat the Scorpion King two falls out of three, he can command the King’s warriors and conquer the world without so much as a by your leave.

Key to this elaborate plan turns out to be an impressive piece of gold jewelry called the Bracelet of Anubis that gets uncovered by the intrepid Evelyn, who has an uncanny sense of where things were in ancient times. Are these visions, hallucinations, memories of a previous life, or a side effect of being the only 1930s Egyptologist to run around the desert in low-cut tops?

Trying to keep the bad guys from the bracelet are two veterans of “The Mummy,” John Hannah as Evelyn’s rapscallion brother Jonathan and Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay, the leader of the Medjai, a benevolent desert brotherhood that comes off like an armed and dangerous version of the Shriners.

In telling this story, writer-director Sommers has not neglected to throw in a lot of old fashioned elements to make us feel at home, including chests that really shouldn’t be opened, birds that deliver messages and scenes reminiscent of the Biblical pageantry of “The Ten Commandments.” That’s not to mention floods, fires and enough action elements to allow for cutting between four separate conflicts in the film’s climactic section. It may be, as one character puts it, “the old end-of-the-world ploy,” but it’s fun to see it done with the energy “The Mummy Returns” brings to this twice-told tale.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for adventure action and violence. Times guidelines: The action is quite intense, but not quite as horrific as the first time around.

‘The Mummy Returns’

Brendan Fraser: Rick O’Connell

Rachel Weisz: Evelyn

John Hannah:Jonathan

Arnold Vosloo: Imhotep

Oded Fehr: Ardeth Bay

Patricia Velasquez: Anck-Su-Namun

Freddie Boath: Alex

An Alphaville production, released by Universal Pictures. Director Stephen Sommers. Producers James Jacks, Sean Daniel. Executive producers Bob Ducsay, Don Zepfel. Screenplay Stephen Sommers. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle. Editors Bob Ducsay, Kelly Matsumoto. Costumes John Bloomfield. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Allan Cameron. Art director Anthony Reading, Giles Masters. Set decorator Peter Young. Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes.

In general release throughout Southern California.