It's been a charmed summer at the movies, with a couple of out-and-out classics, a number of unusually worthy sequels, and even the underachievers (sorry, Indy) sporting enough glimmers of wit and invention to make for a relatively painless matinee. It had to end sooner or later, I suppose. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor falls short of acceptable blockbuster standards, by a degree of stoopid magnitude.
Picking up a decade after 2001's The Mummy Returns, the plot finds he-and-she adventurers Rick and Evelyn O'Connell (Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello, shakily replacing Rachel Weisz) called out of retirement after their son unearths a mythical Chinese warlord (Jet Li) who promptly reanimates and begins to unleash bad CGI upon the world. Note to sticklers: No actual mummies ever appear.
Neither of the previous films in the series was exactly a masterpiece of the action genre. (For that, you'd have to go to creator Stephen Sommers's earlier Deep Rising.) (Seriously.) But they moved well enough, with the smarts to poke fun at their own bombast. Sadly, even such small grace notes seem beyond the reach of director Rob Cohen (Stealth), who delivers a muddle of incomprehensible action scenes, faulty internal logic, and the overqualified supporting cast of Michelle Yeoh and the great Anthony Wong just standing around bewilderedly staring at effects to be added in later.
The only one who appears to be having any fun at all, really, remains Fraser, who struggles mightily to interject a few moments of jut-jawed humanity. His yeoman efforts aside, this is really a joyless, borderline culturally insulting (in the press notes, Cohen talks about his deep love and respect of Chinese history, an ardor which translates into pan flutes on the soundtrack and absolutely everyone knowing kung fu), terminally dopey cluster-eff that almost reaches Ed Woodian depths. I mean, honestly, how does somebody screw up a Yeti attack?