GENRE: Indiana Jones wannabe
THE PITCH: In post-WWII China, retired treasure hunters Rick and Evelyn O'Connell (Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello) must stop resurrected Chinese Emperor Han (Jet Li) from finding Shangri-la, becoming immortal and raising an unstoppable army of terra-cotta warriors. None of them, incidentally, is technically a "mummy," but why be a stickler?
MONEY SHOTS: Jet Li vomits mud and catches on fire when he transforms into a moving statue. A spectacular avalanche in the Himalayas. A battle between two undead armies that improves on a similar scene in The Mummy Returns. A too-brief sword fight between martial arts legends Li and Michelle Yeoh. They don't necessarily compensate for the "I want my money back" shots like the O'Connells stealing a Chinese fireworks truck or an abominable Himalayan creature making the "Touchdown!" sign.
WORST LINE: "The yak yakked," says "comic" relief John Hannah following an animal's bout of airsickness in a small plane. Hannah also gets stuck with delivering lines such as, "My ass is on fire!" and "You guys are like mummy magnets!"
BODY COUNT: Emperor Han has a general drawn-and-quartered just off camera. When Rick's son Alex (Luke Ford) opens the emperor's tomb, his helpers get killed with flesh-eating gas, mechanical bow-and-arrows and a razor Frisbee. Two bad guys get crushed beneath a huge waterwheel. Undead CGI fighters get dismembered in elaborate ways.
INSIDE JOKES: Evelyn writes pulp novels titled The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, after the previous films. When a fan asks if the books' heroine is based on her, Evelyn says "Honestly, I can say it's a completely different person," nodding to the fact that Bello replaces Rachel Weisz in the role. Hannah's character has a Shanghai nightclub named "Imhotep's" after the villain from the previous film. Its musical numbers evoke the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Some of the Shanghai scenes take place before a giant neon billboard for Tsingtao beer. Hannah drives a Rolls-Royce that gets horribly damaged.
BETTER THAN THE FIRST? No. Director Rob Cohen makes it more frantic and ridiculous than Stephen Sommers' first Mummy (which is saying something), but not as obnoxious as The Mummy Returns, which was like watching Sommers give you the finger for two hours. The whole Mummy franchise puts so much emphasis on noise and bad jokes that they're never scary or funny, despite the slick special effects.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is like two previous summer movies combined -- and badly so -- by following the indestructible-warrior plot of Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and the father-son bonding (and uniformed military villainess) of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. At least the scenes with Li and Yeoh offer cheesy but straight-faced respites from the film's aggressive stupidity.
OH, BY THE WAY: In November, Atlanta's High Museum is bringing an exhibit called The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army, about the actual historical figure and archaeological discovery that inspired the film. If The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor inspires just one person to visit a real museum, maybe it'll be worth it.