. "The Mummy Returns"

This is a comic strip that showcases what's possible when you combine state of the art digital effects with live action to create the kind of make believe world common to the cartoons. It's also a successful sequel to the original "The Mummy" deriving from the facts that, at $98 Million, it could pull out all the stops and because it brings back the cast that gave it its comedic sense of fun amidst the fantasy.

The Mummy, in this episode, does return, but as an added treat, we have the Scorpion King who sells his soul to devilish Anubis to rescue himself and return his power with a brand new army. All these characters, including the digital demons that comprise his forces, then descend into the sands, not to return for 5,000 years.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait very long since we pick up the events in 1933 London when the time is up and when we get reacquainted with our heroes, Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his now-wife, archaeologist Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) and their clever offspring, 8 year-old Alex (Freddie Boath), bratty but obedient when he has to be. Along about this time, the mummified remains of Imhotep is brought conveniently to the London museum.

When the family returns to the ancient tomb, Evelyn starts having visions, showing her how everything appeared originally and revealing the combination locks that open every door. Amazing. Pretty soon they take possession of a magic bracelet, removing it from the tomb and setting into motion a soccer league of demonic forces. Soon after they return home with it, precocious little Alex puts it on. It locks itself onto his wrist and produces projections of ancient Egyptian hot spots. Turns out these are the stations of the travels he'll be taking when warrior-priest Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr) and his lethal henchmen come calling, looking for the bracelet, and capture it, Alex and all.

Just as eager to capture the bracelet is the evil-hearted, tiger-eyed beauty, Anck-su-namen (Patricia Velazquez) who is none other than the reincarnation of the betrothed of Imhotep, the mummy hisself, back in the old days before he killed the pharoah and was himself killed and mummified, starting his accursed adventures into more modern times. And, of course, Anck-su-namen also can recall herself in those old days when she was the rival of Evelyn's previous person, the pharoah's daughter. These two are archenemies.

Of course mommy and daddy give chase to get their boy back, let alone the bracelet, and somewhere in this miasma of opposing forces, the Mummy arises. As he regains his powers and good looks we see him morph from a set of cleverly designed prosthetics ala digitization into the more human form of actor Arnold Vosloo.

Piling on all this conflict provides a pretty non-stop series of action sequences which provide enough digital effects and hyper-activity for three movies. And, while its non-stop pacing and endless monster creation make for the kind of thrill that'll keep any 9 year-old breathless in his seat, a more adult audience might find it ultimately more tedious than tantalizing. Revel in its effects, yes. Enjoy the banter between Fraser and Reisz and the subtextual comedic innuendos, of course. Admire the exotic beauty of the female antagonists, sure. But your not scared by a lick of it. Trouble is, you're in on the joke from the get go, so you don't fear for the good guys no matter how digitally powerful the threat or tremulous the music. The point is just to have fun with it, as the cast did.

Bring on that army of pygmy monkey skeletons or the devouring black beetles anytime and take in the rescue dirigible ala "Waterworld", ala Terry Gilliam, ala Jules Verne. See the swordfight between the warring women ala "Crouching Tiger..." and the scorpion-man monstrosity who appears in the final act. Marvel (as I did) at the way the monsters get wiped out in a burst of digital dust. There's something here for everyone except, perhaps, anyone expecting an involvement with real fright.

Fraser is his usual: the almost inimitable boy-out-for-a-fun-time, a role he's got a patent on. And, I'm going to be watching out for Patricia Velasquez in future films. I liked her as much as I did Weisz... and that's saying quite a lot.

Estimated cost: $98,000,000 (a record?). Projected U.S. boxoffice: $205,000,000.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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