DVD Release Date:  December 16, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  August 1, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for adventure action and violence)
Genre:  Action Adventure
Run Time:  112 min.
Director:  Rob Cohen
Actors:  Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Luke Ford, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, John Hannah, Isabella Leong

The Mummy series, starring Brendan Fraser, has never been a critics’ favorite. The first film in the series, The Mummy, was released in 1999 and registered a 53 percent “fresh” rating (the percentage of positive reviews) at the online ratings site Rotten Tomatoes. A sequel, The Mummy Returns which released in 2001, fared a bit worse, coming in at just 47 percent “fresh.”

Those summertime blockbusters, full of ghostly special effects, didn’t need positive reviews: The first Mummy movie grossed $155 million at the North American box office ($415 million worldwide), while its sequel, with slightly worse reviews, brought in slightly more money—$202 million in North America ($430 worldwide).

If it follows that worse reviews correspond to higher grosses, then look for the new Mummy sequel, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, to far surpass its two predecessors at the box office. A mess in terms of story, character and execution, this is a sequel that is not only critic-proof, it’s almost review-proof. Where to begin?

Fraser returns as Rick O’Connell, now settled into married life with his wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello, taking over for Rachel Weisz). Their outward appearance and stately life signal that they’ve put their past adventures behind them, but when asked to get back in the game, they throw off all pretense and dive in, eager for one more adventure.

Over in China, their son, Alex (Luke Ford), has discovered a major archaeological find. What Alex doesn’t know, however, is that the army of preserved mummies he’s found is at the service of the Dragon King (Jet Li), an emperor “of all under heaven” whose quest to “defeat his last enemy—death itself” was thwarted in 200 B.C. by Zi Juan, a witch (Michelle Yeoh) with a score to settle. The emperor is cursed, but if the curse is lifted, all mankind will die.

Once unleashed, the Dragon Emperor shifts into the shape of various creatures, including a three-headed dragon, as he uses his mastery of the five elements to take on anyone who would thwart his quest for domination. It’s up to Alex, Rick and Evelyn to stop him. Evelyn’s brother (John Hannah) pitches in for comic relief, while Alex gets a girlfriend (Isabella Leong), and they all try to get close enough to the emperor to pierce his heart—the only way to kill him, they’re told. Did I mention the abominable snowmen (called “yeti”) who help out?

The action scenes are difficult to follow and the dialogue is little more than a parade of dumb jokes (“the yak yakked”) and exclamations (“avalanche!”) Fraser, saddled with a series of one-liners that fall flat, is even weaker in his third stab at Mummy work than he was earlier this summer in his less-than-inspired performance in Journey to the Center of the Earth. Will he ever make another serious film, or is The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor the sort of work for which he wants to be remembered?

The other actors fare no better. Fans of Jet Li will be disappointed to see how sorely underused he is here, while the radiant Michelle Yeoh just barely escapes this train wreck of a film with her dignity intact. Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have given these performers very little to work with, and director Rob Cohen (who made the abysmal Stealth) is more interested in CGI armies of the undead than he is in his flesh-and-blood actors.

For the Mummy series, the third time offers no charm. Neither darkly compelling like The Dark Knight nor thoughtfully entertaining like Wall•E, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is an also-ran in the summer sweepstakes. Best skip it and enjoy one of those other films, or a DVD at home, instead. Or better yet, read a good old-fashioned adventure story, like Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers.