REVIEW: “The Mummy” (2017)

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One of the most popular (and priciest) trends in today’s movie culture is the shared cinematic universe. Easily the biggest belongs to Marvel Studios. DC Films is following behind them. And then outside of the superhero genre you have 2014’s “Godzilla” and this year’s  “Kong: Skull Island”, the first two films in Legendary’s MonsterVerse.

The more recent entry into this craze comes from Universal Pictures. It’s called the Dark Universe and it’s meant to be a shared-world revitalization of the classic Universal monsters. Some couldn’t care less. As a fan of those great oldies I was anxious to see what they would come up with.


“The Mummy” is the first film to get the reboot treatment and serves as the launching point for the Dark Universe. It’s essentially an origin story but one that doesn’t resemble either the Boris Karloff classic or the more fun-loving Brendan Fraser films. It’s definitely its own thing but defining it beyond that isn’t that easy. Is it an action movie? Is it a horror movie? Is it a Tom Cruise vehicle? Yes to each but especially the third.

Cruise is clearly the centerpiece which works for and against the film. I still like him as an actor and he brings an unquestionable star power to the movie. On the other hand maintaining that star power sometimes outshines everything else. His character resembles roles he has played variations of in other films and he is intent to stick with that type. So much so that when this particular character flirts with some interesting new directions he never goes all the way.

After an obligatory prologue the film introduces us to Cruise’s character Nick. He’s a sergeant with the U.S. military who has a side gig as a soldier of fortune. He and his stereotypical sidekick (played by Jake Johnson) nab artifacts and sell them on the black market. While in Iraq the two stumble across the ancient tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess who sold her soul to Set, the God of Death (see the aforementioned obligatory prologue). They extract the sarcophagus with the help of Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) a spirited archeologist and Cruise love interest.


As you can guess they manage to release Ahmanet (aka the Mummy) and computer-generated death and destruction follow. Nick becomes her conduit, Russell Crowe pops up as Dr. Henry Jekyll, Cruise gets a running scene, and a not-so-likely sequel is set up. Here’s the thing, in between that titillating synopsis are moments of good ol’ corny fun. And there are a couple of action sequences that are pretty exciting. But there is just as much that doesn’t work – the goofy humor, a bad ‘return from the dead’ angle inspired by “An American Werewolf in London”, and any attempt at romantic tension.

In the end “The Mummy” is a generic middle-of-the-road movie. I don’t think it’s as bad as many critics say and it’s certainly not as good as a studio would want. It simply has no true identity. It’s all over the map in terms of tone and quality. With big names already signed up for Dark Universe installments – Javier Bardem’s Frankenstein, Johnny Depp’s The Invisible Man, Angelina Jolie’s (rumored) Bride of Frankenstein – it’s clear Universal has big plans. You would think the franchise launching point would be given a little more attention.



REVIEW: “Safety Not Guaranteed”

Safety Not poster “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a modest little movie from writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow. With a budget well under $1 million, “Safety Not Guaranteed” puts its focus on a smart and witty script and solid performances from its cast. It turns out to be a nice concoction featuring a mixture of drama, romantic comedy, and even a pinch of science fiction. But everything revolves around the characters and that’s where this movie will either sink or swim. Fortunately it does swim.

Supposedly “Safety Not Guaranteed” was inspired by an actual classified ad that was placed in a magazine as a joke. In the movie a writer for a Seattle-based magazine named Jeff (Jake Johnson) and two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a frustrated college graduate with no real direction for her life, and Arnau (Karan Soni) who is only there to diversify his resume, are sent to the small town of Ocean View to investigate and write a story about this unusual classified ad. The ad was placed by someone seeking a partner to venture with him back in time. Knowing the person is nuts yet smelling a good story, the three trace the ad to a seemingly harmless grocery store worker named Kenneth (Mark Duplass).

Now Darius is really the main character here and I thought Aubrey Plaza was very good. Having only seen her small part in “Damsels in Distress” and a little bit of the underwhelming “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, I wasn’t that familiar with Plaza’s work. Her character is very well written but it’s Plaza who brings her to life. Darius is witty and intelligent but she has no sense of place in the world. That’s one reason she can see past Kenneth’s eccentricities and feel genuine sympathy for him. Duplass is also good and I had a hard time figuring him out. Was he certifiably insane? Was he a sad man trying to make up for a sad past? Was he smarter than everyone was giving him credit for? This question is the centerpiece for the entire film.

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There are also some scenes featuring some really good humor. Jake Johnson’s Jeff character is for the most part a detestable jerk. He basically took the assignment so he could hook up with an old girlfriend of his that lives in the community. He’s arrogant and pompous but he can also be pretty funny especially when he’s giving Arnau a hard time. Arnau is your typical socially awkward geek who’s more interested in his tricked out gaming laptop than anything else. His dry and low-key lines probably made me laugh more than any other thing in the film. I’m not familiar with anything else Karan Soni has been in but he cracked me up repeatedly.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a small but precise little picture that’s very efficient with what it has. Derek Connolly’s smart script actually has a lot more going on than what’s on the surface. I really appreciated that. Now I won’t say that this is a movie that will leave a sweet, long-lasting taste in your mouth. But it certainly is an entertaining picture wrapped in a tight 86 minute package. And in those 86 minutes you’ll find some good humor and heart and I assure you that after the final scene you’ll be smiling just like me. Short, simple, and sweet.