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‘The Mummy’ review: Tom Cruise movie should’ve stayed dead

‘The Mummy’

Directed by Alex Kurtzman

Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe

Rated PG-13

The idea makes tons of sense: Gather the iconic monsters that make up the Universal Pictures collection into a 21st century “Dark Universe” reboot, conveniently handing the studio its own version of an “Avengers” or “Justice League” cash cow.

The casting for “The Mummy,” the first movie in the endeavor, seems perfectly logical, too: Tom Cruise needs another franchise to pair with “Mission: Impossible” and Russell Crowe has seen his way around a blockbuster or two in his day.

The conceit introduced here of Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll running a paramilitary research institute devoted to rooting out and destroying evil is so fundamentally obvious given the character’s dual identity, you wonder why no one had thought of scripting it before.

So it’s pretty clear why “The Mummy” exists, the calculations behind it can’t be argued with, and yet it lands with a resounding thud.

There are moments of inspiration and at least one expertly assembled action scene — the plane crash you’ve seen in the trailers — but director Alex Kurtzman fundamentally misses evoking the allure and mystery of ancient Egypt, opting instead for a sanitized globe-trotting action-thriller aesthetic mixed with mummies that look like cheaply rendered zombies. It’s boring and familiar when it should tap into the foreign wonders of a long-forgotten, evocative world.

Cruise skews away from his straight tough guy mode toward a more off-kilter comic approach as protagonist Nick Morton, a soldier on the frontlines in, yes, Iraq, with a side business in the black market trafficking of valuable antiquities.

This leads him a tomb containing the ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), imprisoned for eternity for reasons that don’t need to be mentioned here. Soon enough, she’s awakened and he’s cursed to partake in a long-awaited demonic ritual, though he spends most of the movie fleeing the same sort of large-scale destruction we’ve seen Cruise flee from in many movies past.

Watching Cruise play an awkward and overwhelmed adventurer type pays some dividends. But the movie never allows him to go far enough into the sort of bumbling “Spies Like Us” territory that might’ve made this something different than the norm.

For reasons of commercial convenience or something, he’s repeatedly sucked back into action hero terrain and the writing becomes badly confused. One minute he’s nervously firing a gun at an advancing mummy henchman; the next he’s going toe-to-toe with the metaphysically empowered Ahmanet or the superhuman Mr. Hyde.

The movie itself suffers from a similar internal crisis. It doesn’t really know what it is. In trying to offer a little bit of everything, it instead amounts to a lot of nothing. It’s a heavy lift to establish a franchise, introduce an iconic mythological character, give Cruise the close-ups he requires, offer some Egyptian flair and destroy a bunch of stuff.

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