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'The Mummy' doesn't deserve Tom Cruise

The screen legend is the best part of an awkward, misshapen franchise-starter.
The Mummy
Tom Cruise (with Annabella Wallis) tries his best to save "The Mummy." Chiabella James

‘The Mummy’
Director:
Alex Kurtzman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Tom Cruise is too good for “The Mummy.” The new reboot is a depressing watch, and not only because it’s an awkward, misshapen mess. It’s also because it finds the last classic movie star giving up and giving in. It finds him throwing up his hands and acknowledging the grim truth: that audiences today don’t pay to see actors; they see franchises, brands. Once upon a time, Cruise was a brand. If he starred in an adaptation of John Grisham or Lee Childs, it was his stamp of approval. He knew he was the top draw, because he was.

But he’s not the main draw of “The Mummy,” in part because these days he’s viewed (unfairly) as a creepy crazy. This isn’t the new Tom Cruise movie; it's not even a franchise a la "Mission: Impossible" (a shape-shifting, auteur-driven series anchored by Cruise himself). It’s a newfangled franchise starter, meant to launch movies’ latest Cinematic Universe. That would be the “Dark Universe,” a revival of the old Universal monster movies born in the ’30s, including Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man. It’s a great and welcome idea — in theory. In practice, its maiden entry is a drunken stumble out of the gate — entertaining only because Cruise is, still, one hell of a movie star.

He plays Nick Morton, an Indiana Jones-style archaeologist who happens upon a hidden Egyptian tomb mysteriously buried in present-day Iraq. Out comes our villain: an evil princess, played by Sofia Boutella, who centuries before tried to bring the demonic god Set into our world before being mummified alive. Newly awakened, she hits Nick with a mysterious (read: poorly explained) curse, which may doom him either to death or give Cruise a convoluted reason to appear in future Dark Universe installments.

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You can spend “The Mummy” ticking off a mental checklist of blockbuster annoyances. City destruction, check. Clumsy storytelling (including two historical flashbacks before Cruise even appears), check. Crudely introduced characters who will get their own solo movie, check. Jake Johnson, check. (His ad-libbing sidekick is killed early, then reappears a la Griffin Dunne in “An American Werewolf in London.”) It’s hard not to scream “FFS” when Russell Crowe’s prim doctor reveals himself to be Dr. Jekyll, except that, like Cruise, Crowe is a charming pro who knows how to class up blockbuster detritus (see also: “Man of Steel”). Yes, Mr. Hyde files a glorified if unnecessary cameo; on the other hand, Crowe’s Cockney bruiser is a delight.

As we said, this isn’t really a Tom Cruise movie. But it is, almost despite itself, a fascinating movie about Tom Cruise. It’s one of those times, like “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” when he’s in self-effacing shithead mode. Cruise gets plenty of chances to show off his AARP-aged moves, but Nick isn’t a cocksure adventurer. He’s a cad, a rogue, at times even pathetic. Once cursed, he spends the movie confused and unsure of himself, plagued with cheesy visions, his mind periodically taken over by Boutella’s baddie — a screen icon made to look an incompetent fool.

Cruise is at his best when playing against his rock star image. Alas, the early stretches do allow him to indulge in his worst instincts; poor Annabella Wallis, as Cruise’s of course two-decades-younger love interest, is stuck playing a humorless scold, trying to stay serious while the boys kid around. And yet whenever he's onscreen, no matter what silliness he's doing, Cruise is in charge and in command. It’s just sad that a movie god is reduced to being little more than the best part of a movie that, like a lot of today's blockbusters (especially this), is little more than a bunch of stuff and things. This never would have happened in 1996.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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