The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
I think he misses his mummy. Get it! Get it?! Oh, shut up.

Theatrical Release Date: 08/01/2008
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Jet Li, Luke Ford, Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong, John Hannah

Fan (yes, I mean singular) of The Mummy franchise rejoice! The third installment is here (SEVEN years after the last one … what the hell people, either make sequels or let the franchise die … unless it’s the “Goonies” … give me “Goonies II: The Rise of Chunk” and give it to me now!).

Sorry about that … got a little worked up. Now sit down because you’re probably not going to like what I say about this latest action/adventure epic. Not that “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is all that terrible … but it could have been so much better.

I’m okay with the goofiness of the franchise – they did cast Brendan Fraser after all and that’s what he does. I’m okay with the seeming lack of authenticity when it comes to archeology. I’m even okay with the fast forward of the franchise so as to include an adult son in the mix to freshen up the group dynamic.

What I don’t want is an explanation on why this year’s Olympic host nation – in all their “unrepressive” glory – allowed the film to be shot there when it’s a bastardized version of the Terracotta warriors and the First Emperor of China. What I don’t want is jarringly bad CGI when the all-powerful Jet Li morphs into a three-headed dragon. And what I really don’t want is for people to cast Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, have them show off 1% of their abilities and then pit them against one another in a fight less spectacular than some of the stuff from “Never Back Down“.

The story here is simple. Jet Li, the First Emperor of China, seeks to become immortal. He double crosses the woman (Michelle Yeoh) who can grant him this wish and as such, she curses him and his army – creating the Terracotta army. Flash to the “present” of 1946 where famed adventurers Rick and Evelyn O’Connell have retired from their dangerous profession. Their son picks up where they left off though and finds the Terracotta army. Much to everyone’s surprise (and by everyone, I mean no one), events unfold to awaken Jet Li and he sets off to gain his immortality and raise his army once again. Pretty standard stuff for the series.

This time around, however, instead of Stephen Sommers (who directed the first two films and produced this one) at the helm, audiences are graced with Rob Cohen. Name doesn’t ring a bell? Well, he did an okay job of creating a guilty pleasure of mine in “XXX”, was in charge of that ridiculously terrible “The Skulls” and started the craptacular “Fast and the Furious” franchise … oh, yeah and he did “Stealth” – You know, the film about a sentient plane that downloads every song on the internet but only plays the same Incubus song over and over again. It’s like he’s destined to make terrible (though often bad enough to be funny) films.

Well, no Incubus here (it is the late 1940s after all) but Cohen does little else to persuade me his future is much brighter than any other of the action junkie directors out there, blowing wads of cash on CGI and concerning himself more with the size of the explosions (which are far too big in relation to the combustible materials usually) than much else.

The actors for the most part do a good job, balancing the action elements with the casual, goofy tone the franchise has always maintained. While adding Luke Ford as Fraser’s son was a significant shift for the series, the biggest change was the recasting of Rachel Weisz with Maria Bello. It really was like watching “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to see this completely transformed character. Bello settled into the chemistry of the group well but her accent coach should probably go back to university and study up some more. Her accent isn’t just unbelievable, allowing anyone who didn’t know who she was to spot her non-British heritage; it also drops in and out like that freeloading Uncle of yours that can never keep a job.

As touched upon, the CGI didn’t really work. It was far too cartoonish for a film that tried to use so many actual set pieces. As I alluded to earlier, the most egregious offense comes when Jet Li turns into a dragon. It instantly reminded me of “The Lawnmower Man” … which was made in 1992 … that’s not good (neither is that film).

Toss in the inclusion of Yetis and now you’re paying a team of computer whizzes to make mythical creatures with the ferocity of a wolverine and apparently some knowledge of American football as well (you’ll see … or you won’t … either way it doesn’t matter). Additionally, these Yetis do have a spoken language which because of how crazy everything else is, I’m going to go ahead and let the filmmakers slide on the authenticity of that idea … this time.

The fighting choreography was dumbed down to fit the abilities of the Western actors but kept Li and Yeoh from strutting their stuff. While this works in the favor of Fraser and Bello, fans get the short end of the stick here. The “climactic” battle between Li and Yeoh amounts to about as much fanfare as me getting a free sandwich in my bag at the drive-thru window.

Even with all this negativity being thrown around, I didn’t hate sitting in the theater for “Mummy 3: We Cast Jet Li”. The likability of Fraser and Bello keep you from wanting to commit hara-kiri and a brainless romp is good now and then (no matter what your wife tells you). There were also a few nice “Army of Darkness”-like touches surrounding the hordes of resurrected souls that join the fray for the big end battle. Still, I’m only giving “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” a 2 out of 5. If you’re a big fan of the franchise, you’ll enjoy the latest installment but if you’re expecting something with a bit more polish and substance, your expectations are a touch too high.