I hold Tom Cruise directly responsible for some of my worst experiences in the movie theater. In the summer of 1990, I committed to co-producing and co-hosting a weekly movie review program at my college radio station. The plan included a debut episode on Labor Day, looking back at the biggest hits since Memorial Day. (This was back when blockbuster movies were largely confined to the warmer months, when school was out). It was my obligation to seek out as many of those hits and potential-hits as I could. As always, it was a decidedly mixed bag of features, but only the dreadful Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder made me question the wisdom of committing to the weekly grind of seeing every movie released.
In the years that followed, I suffered through many more lousy movies that suffered from Cruise’s star machine ego, from downright crummy efforts (Far and Away, the first two Mission: Impossible films, Vanilla Sky) to otherwise intriguing films in which Cruise’s performance was easily the weakest element (The Firm, Jerry Maguire, Collateral). He had his moments, either do to shrewd casting that played to his limitations (Eyes Wide Shut) or yet rarer instances of directors who pushed him to go deeper than he previously seemed capable (Magnolia), but Cruise mostly settled in to a groove as the movie star least likely to deliver a pleasant surprise.
This preamble is meant as mildly chastened acknowledgement of the way my sentiments have shifted. I come to praise Cruise, not to bury him. In recent years, he wild-eyed zeal for entertaining the audience, at practically any cost to his life and limb, has been perversely charming. His taste in projects remains highly questionable, but, by Xenu, he consistently gives it his all. When Cruise’s banzai-charge insistence meets a theme park ride big and bold enough for him to him to ricochet around within it, the results can approach cinematic bliss.
I think the filmmakers behind The Mummy believed they has fashioned just such a platform for Cruise. Intended as the linchpin of an interconnected cinematic universe of famed movieland spooky creatures, The Mummy is confused from the first frames of ponderous backstory.
Cruise plays a military man with the super-masculine name Nick Morton. He’s on a mission in Iraq when a massive underground tomb is discovered. He explores it with his requisite wise-cracking buddy (Jake Johnson) and a young, foxy archeologist (Annabelle Wallis), who, it just so happens, Nick knows from an earlier tryst. Down in the tomb, Nick does really helpful things, like fire bullets at pulley ropes on a hunch. That leads the trio to find a sarcophagus that’s been the longtime prison to an Ancient Egyptian princess who was buried alive after she took deadly issue with the patriarchal preferences in lines of royal succession.
As directed by Alex Kurtzman (whose mattresses are probably stuffed with the wads of cash he’s made by writing the Transformers movies and other ruinously bad franchises), The Mummy is simultaneously hectic and boring, ladling on chintzy special effects that wouldn’t have passed muster back when Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz were romping their way through Universal’s prior, more successful attempt to extract riches from this long-held property. Cruise’s eagerness to invite physical mayhem upon himself for the sake of his art leads directly to a fairly inventive nosediving plane sequence, but the rest of the film’s ideas are collectively the equivalent of cooked noodles hurled at the drywall. Some stick, some don’t, and it all lands as an incoherent mess.
Amusingly, Cruise seems utterly perplexed the whole way through, as if no one told him anything about the film he’s in. I don’t mean his character is taken aback by the paranormal foofaraw converging upon him. I mean very specifically that Cruise himself appears baffled, by everything, whether its the props, the scenery, the frothing overacting by Russell Crowe (as Dr. Henry Jekyll and his internalized alter ego), or even the most basic plot points. When Wallis strides up and lays out the exposition of her character’s relationship to Nick, Cruise looks like a pained individual feeling overwhelmed on his first day of improv class. It’s not exactly the headlong foolhardiness I’ve learned to appreciate in Cruise’s later career, but it provided some amount of amusement in an otherwise dismal film.
I made it approximately two-thirds of the way through The Mummy.
Previously in The Unwatchables…
— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, directed by Michael Bay
— Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton
— Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips
— Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder
— Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
— After Earth, directed by M. Night Shyamalan
— The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster
— Now You See Me 2, directed by Jon M. ChU