Film Review: The Mummy (1999)

“There is a hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it.” This is a quote from a review by the great Roger Ebert talking about The Mummy back in May of 1999, and it sums up the experience pretty well. Over the years, there have been a lot of fantasy/action movies that can best be described as “bad, but entertaining,” and this absurd adventure falls squarely into that category.

The Mummy is an action-adventure movie that begins with a look back in time at a fictiona,l devastating and violent romantic entanglement between a high priest and the pharaoh’s mistress. Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the priest, assassinates the pharaoh and flees with said mistress to Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead. There, however, he is tracked down by the deceased Pharaoh’s body guards and made to suffer the horrible fate of being buried alive with flesh-eating beetles. In the process, the mistress kills herself under the assumption that she will be resurrected by Imhotep.

Moving to the late-’90s, a small group of explorers heads for Egypt. Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is an aspiring Egyptologist who is given the gift of a map to Hamunaptra by her thieving and opportunistic brother Jonathan (John Hannah). Together with adventurer Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), they set out to find the City of the Dead and what treasures may lie there, only to find themselves embroiled in the conflicts of the past. The group inadvertently resurrects the mummy of Imhotep, who begins to unleash the plagues of the Old Testament on modern day Egypt. Battling Imhotep and his army of slaves and working alongside the descendants of the ancient pharaoh’s personal guard, Rick, Evelyn and Jonathan must restore order and save themselves.

The script is self-aware in its absurdity, and the actors all seem to be fully aware that they’re in a bad-but-fun project. Even Brendan Fraser, who some viewed as something of a poor man’s Indiana Jones in this role, proved perfect for the part. Rumor has it that Leonardo DiCaprio nearly had the role, and names like Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck are also tossed around with respect to Rick O’Connell, but Fraser’s B-list status and wide-eyed weirdness actually made him the ideal lead for such a goofily entertaining venture.

The film has also had at least some measure of staying power over the years. It inspired a sequel, as well as the ludicrous spinoff The Scorpion King. It also still has a game in rotation at casino arcade sites, according to this site’s rundown of available slots and jackpots. The game is primarily a standard online slot machine, but it’s built to include characters, music and more from The Mummy. The fact that it even exists suggests that the casino companies believe that the content is still a draw to a large number of fans. But more than any sequel or game, it’s the idea of a reboot that is keeping The Mummy relevant even in 2017. Indeed, this is the very reason a review of the movie seemed appropriate at this time.

In just a few months The Mummy will hit theaters again, this time with Tom Cruise in the role of Nick Morton (who appears to be a new take on O’Connell). There will be other differences as well—Sofia Boutella is playing Ahmanet, a female mummy in place of Imhotep, for instance—but it’s largely a remake of the ’99 project as well as the original 1932 Boris Karloff classic. The new film is expected to serve as a sort of launching pad for a sprawling series of monster-related projects by Universal.

If it’s anything like the ’99 movie, it should be a fun and lighthearted disaster that will make for a fitting introduction to the summer blockbuster season.

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