The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
What to see while waiting for
the 'Star Wars' lines to thin

May 13, 1999
By Franklin Harris

Never fear. After doing battle with the Andromeda Strain for the past two weeks, I'm back, and just in time for the summer movie season.

For you cave dwellers, it's now just six days until the opening of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace." I've already purchased a copy of John Williams' soundtrack CD (which, frankly, isn't up to Williams' usual standards) and a copy of Terry Brooks' novelization (which I've managed to hold off reading).

But, unless you're reading this as you stand in line for tickets, you're probably not going to see "The Phantom Menace" during the opening week. That's why I'm here to remind you that there are other movies worth seeing while you wait.

"The Mummy"

The first special-effects epic of the season is "The Mummy," Universal's pseudo-remake of its 1932 classic. I say "pseudo-remake" because the new "Mummy" has far more in common with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and Sam Rami's "Army of Darkness" than it does with Boris Karloff's original.

"The Mummy" stars Brendan Fraser ("George of the Jungle") as a two-fisted adventurer who takes on the task of getting bumbling brother and sister Egyptologists (John Hannah and Rachel Weisz, respectively) to a legendary lost city. Once there, they hope to find a fabled book of magic and maybe a little buried treasure, too.

Unfortunately, three things stand in their way. The first is a group of rowdy Americans who have treasure-seeking ambitions of their own. The second is a cult dedicated to seeing that the lost city's secrets remain secret. And the third is the 3,000-year-old mummy buried in the lost city and not at all happy about that whole mummification thing.

Naturally, as is required in these sorts of movies, someone reads the wrong spell from the wrong forbidden book, and the mummy, actually an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), springs to life.

After 3,000 years, Imhotep has only two things on his mind: regenerating his body and resurrecting his lost love, for whom he was sentenced to living death.

The plot is a little more complex than I make it sound, but not by much. But then you don't go to movies like "The Mummy" expecting intricate plot twists. You go expecting thrills, chills and millions of dollars in special effects.

And "The Mummy" delivers everything you would expect.

Fraser is likable enough as the gun-toting hero, and he and Weisz, who unfortunately has little to do in the film's second half, have a great deal of chemistry.

But the standout performances come from the second bananas. Hannah's character, a wisecracking, drunken, pick-pocketing rogue, steals virtually every scene he's in. Watch out especially for his novel way of blending into a crowd. And Kevin J. O'Connor, who plays Fraser's weaselly nemesis, Beni, gets most of the best one-liners.

Also, look for Bernard Fox, Dr. Bombay from "Bewitched," in a small but hilarious role.

Of course, "The Mummy" wouldn't be "The Mummy" without special effects. It's a good thing then that "The Mummy's" effects are, for the most part, spectacular. From the opening pan over ancient Egypt to the sandstorms and locust swarms Imhotep conjures, the special effects rarely disappoint. In fact, the only truly unrealistic effect is the mummy, himself, who, when still an unregenerated, gooey skeleton creature, looks too obviously like a computer-generated image.

Stephen Sommers, who wrote and directed the film, is also responsible for the underappreciated horror/comedy "Deep Rising," which is available at your neighborhood video store and is worth a look.

Of course, "The Mummy" isn't the only "Phantom Menace" alternative out there.


"Entrapment," is a good, old-fashioned caper film that allows its audience to spend two hours among the truly beautiful people, meaning Sean Connery (who keeps winning those "sexiest-man-alive" awards even though he's almost as old as Imhotep) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (drool!).

And, if you can't get enough of Zeta-Jones (who can?), check out her breakthrough role in last year's surprise hit, "The Mask of Zorro," now available on video and DVD. You can also see her in the underrated 1996 film version of "The Phantom," where she plays Sky Band leader Sala to Billy Zane's purple-clad superhero.

Oh, and did I mention that Zeta-Jones will be starring along with Liam Neeson in this summer's remake of "The Haunting?"

Also, opening tomorrow is the Hong Kong import, "Black Mask," starring "Lethal Weapon 4's" Jet Li.

"Black Mask" is sure to feature the two staples of Hong Kong action flicks: bad dubbing and wild, hyperkinetic martial-arts stunts.

So, even if you can't get in to see "The Phantom Menace" on opening night, that's no reason not to go to the movies, or at least to the video store.

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