Friday, February 28, 2020
Tom Cruise is a wee man but a big star who's made fifty-some movies over the past forty-some years. Movies in which he has given performances ranging from the barely passable to the entirely adequate, interspersed with a lot of running. An awful lot of running. So much so that if you watch several of his movies in a row, which I made the mistake of doing, it's a bit like standing on the sidelines of a leprechaun marathon. (In fairness, Tom isn't above poking fun at his own Forrest Gumposity, as his Twitter bio describes him thus: "Actor. Producer. Running in movies since 1981."
He's also known for doing his own stunts, and even in this era of computer generated effects and environments, many of these feats are legitimately hazardous, and made possible only because Tom's in astonishing physical condition for a middle-aged man, and because he's purged himself of "body thetans" (alien ghosts which infest the human body, according to ancient 20th Century scripture).
So I think we can all agree there is much to admire about Tom Cruise. Personally, I respect his work ethic, his consistent record at the box office, and the hang time he got while jumping on Oprah's couch. But most of all I esteem his courage in releasing The Mummy and not--as I would have done--immediately retreating into the witness protection program.
The Mummy (2017)
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Writers: David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman (screenplay by) Jon Spaihts and Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet (screen story by)
Well! Judging by the writing credits alone, this looks like a fun group activity. Perhaps some sort of occupational therapy administered in a hospice for the Terminally Overcompensated. Not that I’m bitter.
Anyway, don’t get your hopes up, as this is not, obviously, the 1932 Boris Karloff film. It’s not even the 1959 Hammer version starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Instead, it’s an actiony Tom Cruise take on the classic tale of an ageless, terrifying freak who stalks the modern world bringing doom and despair. There’s also a mummy in it.
10th Century England: A group of crusaders solemnly bury a knight, pausing to Bedazzle the corpse with a giant ruby. But before they can break into a chorus from “Spamalot!”, we cut to Present Day, where a huge machine digging the Chunnel gets lost and wanders into London, accidentally boring into the ancient tomb of the jewel-encrusted Knights of the Order of St. Liberace.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and any time machines or workmen dig up a forgotten old chamber, your odds of entertainment are at best 50/50. Sometimes, admittedly, you get Quatermass and the Pit (1967). But usually you get Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981).
Russell Crowe arrives with a large staff of silhouettes to take over the excavation. As they fan out through the tomb he places a call to the audience, but we refuse to pick up, and send him straight to Voice Over.
Russell informs us he's Henry Jekyll (yeah, I’m not gonna call him that) and would like to show us clips from the life and death of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who judging by her name is some kind of Egyptian internet provider.
Ahmanet was the only daughter of Pharaoh, and poised to inherit his kingdom when Pharaoh had a son. So she cut a deal with Set, the God of Death, who offered her extra irises for her eyes, a bunch of squiggly tattoos that look like that code from The Matrix, and a ruby-tipped dagger. She stabs her dad, then tries to bring Set into the world of the living by having sex with a guy and killing him, but she gets brought down with tranquilizer darts by Animal Control. They wrap her in bandages, seal her up in a casket, and bury her in the desert, which frankly seems like a much more efficient way of replacing an evil and incompetent leader than the Electoral College.
Present Day Iraq: U.S. Army Sergeant Tom Cruise is watching ISIS fighters shoot up Mesopotamian statues. Tom’s a looter (although he calls himself a “liberator” after receiving focus group feedback), and he’s heard that Russell is willing to pay handsomely for “Haram”, which means either treasure, or curse, because what's the difference? Jake Johnson, who’s been hired at Tom’s comic relief, spews some pissy exposition and bad jokes until Tom slices open his water bag so he’ll die a slow, agonizing death by exposure and dehydration. Both Jake and I are astonished by this; Jake, because he thought Tom was his friend, and I because I’ve never found a Tom Cruise character this likeable before.
Tom and Jake go down to the village, get shot at, lose their weapons, lose their shit, and call in an air strike on their own position, which breaks open “Haram. And since we just watched Russell’s Discovery Channel show earlier in the movie, we know this is Ahmanet’s tomb.
Then Dr. Jenny Halsey shows up to slap Tom and demand he return the map of Haram. It seems Tom seduced her, then burgled her belongings and stole the map while she slept. Already I like her, because if the script requires you to spend the night with Tom Cruise, sleeping through the whole ordeal seems like a smart way to handle it.
But Jenny gets her revenge when Tom’s commanding officer orders Tom and Jake to “get in the hole” with her. They discover a lake of mercury inside, which seems to scare the hell out of the musical score, and it spends the rest of the scene loudly fretting about our heroes suffering thyroid damage.
Jake robs the grave while Jenny drones on about how “It’s not a tomb. It’s a prison”, which Tom takes as his cue to shoot the chains away and free the monster. The ancient mechanism groans and hoists a huge sarcophagus out of the mercury, its lid carved with the image of a woman caught in mid-menstrual cramp. Tom has a vision of Ahmanet, clad in a filmy white dress, walking barefoot over rippling sand dunes until she suddenly appears before him and plants a grateful kiss on his lips for buying her tampons without bitching about it like most guys.
Jake gets bit on the neck by a camel spider so everybody gets in a cargo plane with the sarcophagus and takes off. Tom and Jenny have a lovers spat while Jake writhes in his seat, turns purple, and goes into respiratory arrest. Having witnessed his earlier attempts at comic relief, everyone else seems fine with this and just looks at their phones.
Jake’s feelings are hurt, so he stabs their C.O. Tom grabs a gun, and Jenny sensibly yells, “Don’t shoot in the pressurized aircraft!”, but Tom’s feelings were also hurt earlier when she implied he suffers from premature ejaculation, so he shoots Jake and the plane starts crashing. Into England. Even though they're in Iraq. Birds crash into the engines and the cockpit, but with no Captain Sully onboard, it looks like everybody’s about to die.
Again, don’t get your hopes up.
Tom wakes up naked in a Shake ‘N’ Bake bag, and looks confused. This will be a leitmotif for Tom throughout the film (not the nudity, the confusion). Then Jake appears and takes on the Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London role of the decaying best friend who says helpful stuff like “You’re not dead…But you’re gonna wish you were.”
We’re way ahead of you, Jake.
They have one of those old married couple arguments about who shot who, then he tells Tom he’s cursed, and has no choice but to do everything the monster tells him to, and Tom looks more confused than ever because that’s usually his line when he’s recruiting for Scientology.
Jenny tells Tom the Mummy is looking for the dagger that can bring the God of Death to life, but the ruby (which I guess is like the battery?) was broken off and buried centuries ago with a Crusader. Which is good. But they just dug up a bunch of Crusaders, which is bad. Tom just stands there testing the limits of the human face’s capacity to look confused, so Jenny calls Russ, who tells her to bring Tom to London and he’ll show her how you really confuse some poor dope with exposition.
Tom storms out into the alley and meets the Mummy and her army of rats, who swarm Tom and basically do to him what the rats in Willard did to Ernest Borgnine. Fortunately for Tom, good actors apparently taste better, because the rats discreetly spit parts of him into their napkin and ask to be excused from the table.
Back at the airplane wreckage, Ahmanet is doing to the crash investigators what the naked vampire chick did to the astronauts in Lifeforce: kissing them and sucking out their essence, which gives her moldy, decayed flesh a Covergirl glow.
Tom’s curse starts to produce strange effects; as well as making him taste like shit to rats, he’s now endowed with a Mummy-finding GPS, and leads Jenny to Carfax Abbey, where Ahmanet is playing Spin-the-Bottle-and-Suck-the-Lifeforce. But she gets bored with that and entices Tom to play Horsey by sticking her butt in the air and scampering around the Abbey on all fours in a scene I really hope they don’t play when Sofia eventually winds up in the Academy Awards “In Memorium” reel.
Ahmanet mounts Tom cowgirl style and is about to pierce his heart and welcome the God of Death into his body, but she notices the ruby is missing from the haft of the dagger and you know how some girls are; if every little thing isn’t just perfect, suddenly they’re not in the mood anymore.
Russell’s troops drug Tom and take him to Prodigium, the monster-hunting service Russell runs, where Ahmanet is chained up and being embalmed with mercury because I guess this movie was sponsored by the Mercury Council? Mercury: It's Not Just for Thermometers Anymore! Anyway, like Handi-Wipes that runny silver snot has a Hundred and One uses.
Tom has another vision: Ahmanet is lying on top of him and they’re about to consummate their unholy love, but then she whispers in his ear “It burns!”, which ruins the mood because he’s already been slapped, died in a plane crash, and been eaten by rats; the last thing he needs is ancient Egyptian gonorrhea.
Fortunately, she can’t unleash the god of Death without the ruby. So naturally Russell’s men go dig it up so he can repair the dagger and stab Tom because it’s the only way to stop those Mission: Impossible sequels.
Instead, Russell accidentally transforms into Mr. Hyde and savagely, repeatedly, beats the living crap out of Tom. The scene is a pointless detour full of confused, flabby action that doesn’t advance the story in the slightest, but I know what I like.
Tom grabs Jenny and does wind sprints around town because while he may not be a good actor, you’re in no position to sneer at his resting heart rate. Ahmanet calls upon “the sands of Egypt” to blow through London, breaking windows and making the waistbands of everyone’s swimsuit feel gritty.
Meanwhile, down in the crypt, Russell’s men grab guns and prepare to defend the ruby, but Ahmanet commands the dead knights to fight for her. Weren’t these guys Crusaders who dedicated their lives to Christ and embarked on a holy quest? Why are they suddenly rolling over for this evil heathen bitch? I guess for the same reason the Moral Majority supports Donald Trump.
Jenny follows Tom into the subway and promptly drowns, but even though she’s dead, the long, lingering shots of her corpse suggest she still does quite well in the local wet t-shirt contest.
Ahmanet catches up with him and also beats the living crap out of Tom, and I mean really lays into him, throwing him around the crypt, breaking his ribs, punching him silly--it’s a dream come true. I mean, I don’t want to seem creepy or anything, but if there were a fetish site with this kind of premium content, they’d already have my credit card number.
Tom filches the dagger from Ahmanet, stabs himself, gets multiple irises in his eyes, and becomes a LIVING GOD!, just like Scientology promised. But then he remembers Jenny saying that deep down he’s a good man, so he beats the crap out of Ahmanet and sucks her lifeforce out of her mouth, then tosses her away like a used Kleenex.
Tom screams at Jenny, which allows her to shake off that whole death thing, and runs away as Russell intones, “Well, he’s a monster now. But sometimes it takes a monster to fight a monster.” Which is a stupid coda for a movie, but a great slogan for this fall’s Presidential debates.
Cut to the desert, where Jake tells Tom, “Hey, thanks for bringing me back to life.” Then he and Tom go for a horseback ride, like they’re at some sort of undead dude ranch, as we slowly fade to blech.