Have you ever seen a stand-up comic bomb, live on stage? It’s a peculiar form of schadenfreude that’s difficult to explain properly if you’ve never experienced it live in person. Thankfully, if you’re at all curious about this kind of shameful joy, the good folks over at Universal have decided to remake and release The Mummy, but this time with the intentions of purposely recreating the shared universe of classic Universal Monsters.
It’s not unprecedented, as the original Universal monsters all crossed over with everyone from The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and even Abbot & Costello, but it’s difficult to ignore the cynical sense that this is a reactive move in response to the overwhelming success of interconnected superhero movies. This is where the schadenfreude comes in, as 2017’s The Mummy earnestly tries to be a lighthearted, witty, charismatic action-comedy romp that involves some fun characters, fails often in its attempts at the comedy, and holds its mediocre own regarding the action.
There are bits and pieces that work, but they’re all bogged down in between lots of “been there, done that” which we’ve seen in a lot of other movies, specifically 1999’s The Mummy, which has clearly influenced the level of power we see the new Mummy utilize to… capture Tom Cruise? The villain’s motivations are vague, as she’s mainly antagonistic merely to be antagonistic. Which is fine, sometimes evil is just evil, but here’s the main issue with the movie really—none of the casting is any good.
I get the kind of character Tom Cruise is supposed to play, but seeing him trying to play cocksure smart-alec in an age of Chris Pratt’s and Walton Goggins’ shows how downright inferior he is at this now. Perhaps in the ’80s he might have been better suited for this kind of role, but instead, here he’s just terribly miscast and it will bother you every time you don’t laugh at a joke he makes or something ‘funny’ happens to him. Even the usually very funny Jake Johnson can’t make his goofy sidekick shtick work for the life of him. Sofia Boutella gives a perfectly cromulent performance as the titular character, who cinematically comes off more like a powerful witch than an Egyptian revenant.
This isn’t to say that the movie is a laughless, boring slog that misses the mark entirely because it indeed nicked the mark. Just grazed it perhaps. It’s easy to see with a few tweaks how maybe this could have been a really fun B-movie style action-comedy, but when all the comedy fails and it’s just a mediocre action movie, things start becoming unintentionally funny and this is where the true joy in the film resides.
While nearly every single attempted joke is unfunny – a few physical comedy gags worked – the sheer amount of things that are unintentionally hilarious is near uncountable. For the first act of the movie, we’re really dealing with an unremarkable adventure that leads to the discovery of an ancient tomb, and the jokes are plentiful and grating. It’s when the movie starts to kick into gear in the second act, that two wonderful things happen: (MILD SPOILER WARNING) First, the movie hints at the expanded “Dark Universe,” with a spectacular world building reveal of a governmental organization that handles supernatural entities, and their labs that contain a number of Easter eggs and background hints at future movies to come. Best of all, they’re all led by Russell Crowe in an inspired role as Dr. Jekyll! THAT Dr. Jekyll, who has a ludicrously elaborate containment system to keep his dark counterpart Mr. Hyde under lock and key. Who freely visits places to conduct business in public, despite literally battling a transformation into a monster-man at all times. Who injects himself with an overly complicated pneumatic injector that’s apparently very difficult to assemble in a hurry… despite being constantly needed. Also, it straight up resembles a sonic screwdriver from Doctor Who.
That level of absurdity begins to permeate the film and everything about the movie from this point on starts to take itself more seriously, despite the rising aforementioned absurdity. While little attempts at humor pop up again from time to time, the movie is still ripe for the picking, begging to be riffed on at home with a group of friends and a few beers. I’m unsure if John. Q. Public is quite ready for a movie about a sexy killer mummy, which sucks because it’s definitely about time we had a sexy killer mummy movie. I know when I think of The Mummy, I think of sex appeal.
Try to not look at The Mummy’s bandaged butt in one of the many scenes where she’s killing dudes by straddling them and sucking their souls out of their mouths. Just try to not peek at that sexy mummified bubble butt. That Tutankhamen badonkadonk. That BANDAGE BOOTY.
Anyways, I’ve watched a lot of stand-up comedy in my day, and I’ve seen a lot of comics bomb. It’s a strange feeling, different from the usual “Oh this is bad, turn it off” reaction you get from normal bad entertainment. It’s more akin to a shared experience of pain and humility, where you are the viewer and simultaneous unwilling participant in the embarrassment of somebody on stage bombing hard. I wanted this movie to be good, I’m one of the five or so people left who actually still likes Tom Cruise as an actor, and I love bad monster movies. This movie should have been right up my alley as I crossover with every single target demographic this flick aims for, and it missed on nearly all accounts. It went up on stage, and it gave its best, and while it bombed terribly at nearly every single joke it attempted, it at least tried. It tries very hard, and boy does that make it funnier to laugh at, and not with.
Geek Grade: C
2017’s The Mummy will entertain you undoubtedly, but never in the way it intends, and only at its own expense. They don’t even get the Egyptian god of the dead right! (Anubis, not Set, DUH!) It’s a shame because the Dark Universe is a neat idea I’d love to see continued, but if they’re all like this, I just don’t see it happening.