Watching The Mummy is sort of like going to Vegas’ newest casino, where you get to witness corporate America’s most cynical vision of what the average wage-earning slob should do with his disposable income. It’s all chintzy faux extravagance, a simulacra of a real experience, a strip mall recreation of a better place. Vacation Island has all-you-can-eat crab! And between the cement Eiffel Tower and plaster sphinx there’s the surprisingly well-preserved corpse of Tom Cruise, reanimated for three shows nightly. Remember Maverick, you guys? He’s back! Come watch him pump his hilarious lil legs at the Danger Zone Crab Hut, free squibs and airplane pancakes for kids under 5.
The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman, is for everyone and so it’s for no one, or maybe it’s for “families” — any group of people with a language barrier or no common interests who want to do something together without talking, an all-inclusive time share resort of a movie. It’s been said that art thrives on limitation, and perhaps conversely, utter crap thrives on the ability to destroy anything in CGI.
Tom Cruise, who’s 54 but has been smoothed, digitally or Scientologically, into a roughly 30-something man, plays Nick Morton, a wisecracking “Army reconnaissance specialist” who, along with his buddy, Chris (Jake Johnson) moonlights in stealing antiquities. Think male Lara Croft with a smoother chest. In the first scene (“IRAQ, PRESENT DAY”), he smooth talks Chris into trying to steal a trove of ancient treasures which are presently being shot to pieces by faceless shouting Arabs, as faceless shouting movie Arabs are wont to do. The movie basically makes a joke out of this, flashing “Iraq” on the screen followed by an old statue getting shot up with a Kalashnikov, as if the target audience’s only conception of Iraq is as a place defined by “bad guys” randomly shooting at everything.
When Chris and Nick sneak into the ruins, the bullets and explosions really start to fly, and the interesting thing about The Mummy is that it doesn’t even pretend anyone cares where the bullets are actually coming from. We’re just here to watch Tom Cruise run an obstacle course, right? ALL. YOU. CAN. EAT. CRAB.
As if the stakes weren’t already low enough, Chris and Nick (I’m just going to call him “Tom Cruise” from now on) bicker “comically” the whole way, Scooby Doo-style. Chris ends up calling in an air strike and all the faceless Arabs run away on account of faceless Arabs hate air strikes. (Torn from the headlines!) In the process, the explosion uncovers, you guessed it, a giant tomb. That’s when Tom Cruise’s yelling CO (Courtney B. Vance) arrives, followed by a sexy archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis), who’s angry at Tom Cruise for stealing her treasure map while they were doing it last night. She’s implausibly too attractive for the scene around her and everyone so divorced from things actual humans might do that her dialogue feels like the movie desperately overcompensating. What? Of course Tom Cruise has a girlfriend, you wouldn’t know her, she goes to another school. Archaeology school.