NEITHER A HORROR FILM NOR AN action epic, but actually a flat-out comedy, this latest retread of a horror icon throws itself into its period with gusto. With its derring-do, screwball comedy, wisecracking sexual flirtation among the leads, and even cheerful sexism and racism, this movie--except for the special effects--could have come out in 1935. Writer/director Stephen Sommers balances all his influences quite nicely in the first half, which is an unalloyed delight. Brendan Fraser is positively rip-roaring in the lead, meeting each challenge with a broad smile and the absolute certainty that he'll survive. Rachel Weisz matches him step for step, with all the spunk and ditzy charm you'd expect from a heroine who can proudly proclaim she's not just smart... she's a librarian!

The very things that make The Mummy initially entertaining, however, begin to grate as the movie goes on. Part of the reason you can indulge yourself during the film's opening is the pleasant expectation that Weisz will abandon her bookishness and get into some rip-roaring of her own. Unfortunately, she remains a shrieking damsel in distress, always waiting for Fraser to rescue her. (This is an especial letdown from Sommers' previous, fabulous picture Deep Rising, where Famke Janssen was everything you could hope for in a female action lead.)

Even more damaging to the film is that, when Imhotep the mummy finally appears, he starts as a dull computer-generated corpse and becomes the even duller Arnold Vosloo, remaining nothing more than an inexplicably evil monster without a fraction of the pathos Karloff or Christopher Lee previously brought to the role. Without a villain to pity or a heroine to root for, the film's genial goofiness quickly get annoying, since there's nothing for the comic relief to relieve you from. I expect great things from Sommers someday--his playful attachment to genre can bring Carpenter to mind, or even the sainted Howard Hawks--but this is a rather disappointing example of trying too hard for the laughs. For a mindless matinee, though, it's just about perfect.

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