Friday, May 4, 2001

The old-fashioned target audience for a tear-jerker such as “Pavilion of Women” intuits an implicit request from the producers: Get out your handkerchiefs. The prodigious, modernistic target audience for “The Mummy Returns,” a sequel to the successful monstrosity of 1999, ought to be hip to another precaution: Insert your earplugs.
The prototype, designed to supercharge a Universal horror relic of 1932, often through the intervention of overscaled, pseudo-apocalyptic spectacle from the computer graphic artists at Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas celebrated special-effects shop, surpassed “Armageddon” as the most deafening big dumb adventure thriller of recent years.
The same excruciating distinction is reclaimed after one sequence of “Returns,” which conjures up an ancient clash of armies in an Egyptian desert, the better to establish a supernatural legend: World Wrestling Federation headliner the Rock as a dread Scorpion King, temporarily subdued several millenniums back but capable of loathsome reincarnation if the wrong sorcerers get busy with malicious incantations in a vulnerable present, supposedly the early 1930s.
I rather like the suggestion that the WWF derives from a venerable tradition of evildoing and trafficking with diabolical influences.
I also may be consoled in old age by the thought ofinevitable class-action suits aimed at everyone responsible for soundtracks and sound systems that insist on the level of sensory pulverization favored by the “Mummy” apparatus.
For the time being, though, if you rise to the bait of such total onslaught, assault-and-battery stimulation, it wouldnt hurt to cushion the impact on defenseless eardrums.
Sooner or later, movie studios may be obliged to affix adequate health warnings to the prints and advertising, in the fashion of rating logos.
The Light & Magic association also helps underline some of the indebtedness of writer-director Stephen Sommers, who struggles to replicate the swashbuckling gusto of the Indiana Jones spectacles, especially “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” while also hurling fragments of Jules Verne and the Arabian Nights tradition into his churning, state-of-the-art rattletrap.
Theres even a throwaway joke about lifting a precious object that seems to anticipate the Ark itself but Im getting ahead of the principal confiscated and booby-trapped treasure on the agenda, a golden accessory called the bracelet of Anubis.
Supposedly, it controls the resurrection of the Scorpion King and his hordes of devil-dog infantry. Those ranks share the style of locomotion Light & Magic designers reserve for robot armies in the “Star Wars” series.
Former Legionnaire Rick OConnell (Brendan Fraser) and his brainy but absent-minded consort, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), have married in the eight years separating the plots of “Mummy” and “Returns.” While the OConnells were treasure-hunting at one site, adversaries were dredging up their ultranemesis at another.
Make way for an abstract earth sculpture that conceals the former high priest called Imhotep, capable of awesome slaughter when fully charged and prone to create havoc with a snap of the fingers or a blast of infernal bad breath.
A fleeting earthquake and flood similarly distract the heroes at their site. It doesnt take long for Mr. Sommers to reimpose his familiar pattern with menace of all descriptions and magnitudes: Easy come, easy go; now you see it, now its a tempest in a teapot.
One of the better fleeting aspects of “The Mummy” was Patricia Velasquezs slinky appearance as Anck-Su-Namun. Full-time duty as assistant scourge in “Returns” puts her at the mercy of sustained exposure and cliched surliness.
Imhotep, again played by Arnold Vosloo in human or semihuman disguise, which suggests a renegade Mr. Clean, is such an overblown villain in his own right that collaboration seems pretty superfluous.
The excuse here is that he needs a little time to recharge. An active rivalry is contrived for Miss Weisz and Miss Velasquez, dating back to the heyday of the pharoahs.
The heroine, it seems, was a princess, privy to the crimes of the villainess, her fathers treacherous bride.
This brainstorm opens the door for sword duels between the ladies, allowing the “Mummy” group to poach on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” more promptly than any other unworthy imitator.
The finale sets up a quartet of showdowns before perceiving the advantages of reducing them to a pair — Miss Weisz vs. Miss Velasquez and Mr. Fraser vs. a tag team of Mr. Vosloo and the Rock, morphed into a gigantic scorpion monster.
Even then, the key or decisive actions appear to get botched, notably the spear thrust required to cut down the big bug.
Not that the beast itself isnt admirably emblematic of a movie that overrates sensationalism of the the big and buggy persuasion.

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