In short, The Mummy Returns is a movie we deserve. It's a focus-grouped, senseless, violent, nudity-free, kid-friendly piece of pabulum that should slide down your cinematic gullet like a plate of cheese fries.
Brendan Fraser, who epitomizes the simple-minded good guy, stars as Rick, a lovable grave robber who, when not desecrating the sacred monuments of other cultures, likes to shoot people with a shotgun. Rachel Weisz plays his wife, Eve, who also loves grave robbing and murder. With their irascible young son Alex (Freddie Boath) they get mixed up in a 5,000-year-old plot for world domination.
Well, actually, competing 5,000-year-old plots for world domination. On one side is "The Scorpion King," an ancient Theban general who sold his soul to the god Anubis in exchange for an eternity of torture. Not really a good deal, but the ancient Thebans were not known as great negotiators. On the other side is Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), an ancient Egyptian priest who's been waiting around in the afterlife for a chance to come back and get his freak on with Anck-Su-Namun, his girlfriend circa 3,000 B.C.
It seems that both Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun were killed when her husband found out about their special love. Since then, Imhotep has been really looking forward to coming back from the dead, what with death being largely devoid of fun and/or action.
Imhotep tried this once before, in The Mummy, but sadly Brendan Fraser and company defeated him. This time, not only does he have Fraser to contend with, he has to defeat the soon-to-be-resurrected Scorpion King. This will prove difficult, pro-wrestler The Rock plays the Scorpion King. (You've gotta love The Rock, because, you know, his name starts with "The.")
Anyway, the Imhotep forces kidnap young Alex and Brendan Fraser must assemble an ethnically diverse band of merry warriors to retrieve him before he accidentally frees the army of the dead and destroys the entire world. Kids! You can't leave them alone for a minute!
Of course, all this "plot" is really just an excuse for the action sequences. The Mummy Returns is like an action and special effects porn film--someone enters the scene, says a couple lines of dialogue, and then swords start whirling, the dead rise and stuff blows up. The problem is this gets really boring, really quickly. It doesn't matter how many computer-generated undead warriors decapitate each other, if you don't know why they're doing it and don't care who wins, it's hard to stay interested.
What's worse, all the effects and fights are technically perfect, but they have no life to them, just lots of mechanical hacking and flaming. The cinematography suffers from the same problem. It looks like it should be stunning, as it's awash in colors and desert landscapes and glowing orange sunsets, but it's somehow totally limp.
And yet, despite the fact that The Mummy Returns will strike some as utterly soporific, I'm sure it'll be a big box office hit. Audiences will cheer where they're supposed to, and Europeans will have yet another reason to think of the United States as their super-powered, mentally deficient little cousin. As a patriot and a citizen of the world, I find this deeply depressing. Every time I meet someone from a civilized nation, like Canada or Kyrgyzstan, I have to make excuses for my country's insulting cultural output. Isn't there some chance that we could all, as a nation, agree to stay home and not watch this movie, so that we can at least say "we didn't fall for that one ... again."