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‘The Mummy’ comes unraveled

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Universal’s monster-driven “Dark Universe” kickoff unimpressive

Every major movie studio is on the lookout for the next blockbuster franchise. If it can be tied together with other franchises to create a cinematic universe, so much the better. The powers that be at Universal looked at the folks out there making billion-dollar box office courtesy of interconnected intellectual properties and thought that they might like some of that action.

And so the Dark Universe was born.

This cinematic universe – intended to feature reboots of the many monster movies in the Universal archives – tried to break big with its debut, the Tom Cruise-starring “The Mummy.” Unfortunately, the film fails to achieve the desired launching effect, instead feeling overstuffed and needlessly expository in a way that an oddly flat Cruise can’t overcome.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, a military man whose side hustle involves the illicit procurement and resale of antiquities. Along with his put-upon sidekick Vail (Jake Johnson, TV’s “New Girl”), Morton tracks down a potentially big score courtesy of a map stolen from an archaeologist named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”).

It turns out that this spot is the resting place of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, “Star Trek Beyond”), an Egyptian princess erased from the rolls of history due to a monstrous pact entered into with Set, the god of death. Her sarcophagus is removed and is taken to London for study. And we all know what happens when mummies are disturbed, don’t we?

That’s right – curses.

Ahmanet rises again, taking Morton as her chosen – chosen meaning that he is going to be used as an earthly receptacle for the evil powers of Set. Morton and Halsey – along with the assistance of an evil-fighting organization led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that one) played by Russell Crowe (“The Nice Guys”) – are in a race to find a way to overcome Ahmanet’s incredible powers before she can make good on her curse and turn Morton into the living embodiment of death.

And there you have it.

“The Mummy” tries to have it both ways. It wants to be the primary lead-in to an extended universe, which means that it has a LOT of groundwork that it’s trying to lay in advance of films to come. But it also wants to be a Tom Cruise movie, with all that that entails. And in trying to be both, it never manages to be either.

I honestly don’t know if we’ve ever seen Tom Cruise look this disinterested in a movie. Maybe there weren’t enough opportunities for him to put himself in harm’s way via practical stuntwork to make him feel liked enough – it’s tough to say. But we’ve seen him far more invested in movies that were just as ridiculous. Instead, he comes off as doing nothing more than hitting his marks and saying his lines, as though the effort trying to will a franchise into being sapped him of his pathological desire to be loved. Whatever the reason, it’s not the Tom Cruise you love (or love to hate). He’s just meh.

Crowe chews on some scenery as Dr. Jekyll, doing the bulk of the world-building while Cruise runs away from sand and fights undead minions alongside a meh Wallis. It’s not that Crowe is bad (we do get a glimpse of Jekyll’s famed alter ego, which is fun) so much as that he’s clearly here as a device to accelerate interconnectivity. Boutella is fine, but unmemorable; standard-issue big bad stuff. Johnson is there for some weird, tonally jarring comic relief and not much else.

Director Alex Kurtzman is known best as a writer (he wrote the first entries in the “Star Trek” and “Transformers” franchises, along with a “Mission: Impossible” film and the last Spider-Man movie before next month’s “Homecoming”) and producer (created TV shows “Fringe,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Hawaii Five-0”); this marks only his second feature film as director.

Unfortunately, that inexperience shows. There’s an inconsistency in tone; the visual choices are all over the place and the narrative lacks urgency or cohesion. The story issues are particularly glaring (and unsurprising – there are three screenplay credits and three story credits; six writers is a lot). That can be forgiven if the aesthetic works, but the set pieces feel lackluster and bland and the overall look is wildly over-processed.

(Note: Not that it necessarily needs to be stated, but the 3D work on this film is especially poor. Even by the extensively varied standards set by the format, this one is bad.)

All that said, “The Mummy” isn’t actually terrible. If you squint, you can almost see the outline of a decent popcorn movie buried under all the extraneous nonsense and obvious inexperience. And one can see the potential promise of the Dark Universe concept.

You just have to hope that going forward, Universal has both the opportunity and the inclination to make the necessary improvements, because offerings like “The Mummy” aren’t going to cut it.

[2 out of 5]

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