It sounds like a little punctuation would give The Mummy Returns a more appropriate title: "The Mummy" Returns. Mainstream and religious media critics alike are groaning at how much this sequel is just The Mummy all over again, only louder, longer, and even more ludicrous. The box office, however, shows that audiences are happily scarfing down the year's first junk food blockbuster without questioning its ingredients or what might be missing. For those who want more information before proceeding, here are the responses of several mummy-gazers.

Christian critic Michael Elliot came out of The Mummy Returns unimpressed. "This is The Mummy slightly repackaged, definitely revisited," the Movie Parables critic writes. "Watching it is a bit like having déjà vu because it sticks pretty close to the original formula." He notes that the film is "high on action and CGI effects but quite low on originality." Similarly, a critic for the U.S. Catholic Conference responds that this "overblown action flick is all non-stop physical confrontations and splashy special effects, with characterizations and narrative lost in all the sound and fury."

Mainstream critics are using adjectives that action movies try to avoid … like boring.'s Christopher Null shrugs at what he calls "a bunch of cheap fright gags, lame jokes, and boring traps, all of which we've seen countless times before. For much of the film I simply sat there feeling bored." Boredom was the experience of Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert as well: "Imagine yourself on a roller coaster for two hours. After the first 10 minutes, the thrills subside. The mistake of The Mummy Returns is to abandon the characters, and to use the plot only as a clothesline for special effects and action sequences."

Peter T. Chattaway calls some of the film's animation effects "downright sloppy," and in his Vancouver Courier review he adds, "The acting is all over the map … from [Brendan] Fraser's reliable straight-man routine to Patricia Velasquez's clumsy performance as Imhotep's reincarnated lover." Another unfortunate characteristic of the movie, according to Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly—this mummy just isn't scary. "There's not one minute," she insists, "not one, when we need ever fear for the O'Connells, because we know all along that the monsters are made of pixels and, in the age of sequels, families populated by stars are always safe. Nor is there one minute when the mummies are awesome—like in the original 1932 Mummy—because we know all along that they no longer represent figments of our unconscious but instead represent the latest advances in CGI technology."

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Looking closer at the film's dabblings in ancient Egyptian mythology and spirituality, some critics found a laughably self-contradicting mish-mash of ideas. At Christian Spotlight on the Movies, Kenneth R. Morefield noticed that when the movie's various and wicked spiritual forces lead to inevitable trouble, one character mutters "God help us." Morefield also noticed a scene in which a hero fights to escape being dragged by a demon down to the underworld; yet, when a child's dead mother is brought back from the dead, she offers to explain "what heaven looks like." Is there, then, a heaven in this world? If so, it must select its inhabitants at random. "None of this is intentionally heretical or even thought out," Morefield writes. "And I say it not because being unchristian in its worldview makes it a bad movie, but because being inconsistent in the world it recreates (Christian or non-Christian) is an element of an inferior fantasy world."

Bob Smithouser at Focus on the Family argues that this installment is "equally violent and more spiritually bankrupt than the original. It's a headache-inducing, visceral barrage that seems determined to keep audiences from pausing long enough to realize how ridiculous it all is." Smithouser mocks the film's "maddening" theology, which pits one evil "god" against another. "Who's left to root for when it's darkness vs. darkness?" he asks.

Other religious critics either overlooked or ignored these flaws. Critics at Movieguide and Preview both object to The Mummy Returns only because it presents elements of the occult and reincarnation rather than Christianity. Holly McClure at The Dove Foundation may be the only religious media critic who seemed perfectly happy with it: "Truthfully I enjoyed almost everything about [Sommers's] movie. This is a thrilling, non-stop, action packed, special effects, intense mummy movie … full of exciting, funny, interesting characters that will entertain young and old alike. Sommers gives us a movie on the level of Indiana Jones."

I'd have to disagree with McClure on this point. The Indiana Jones movies are classics for qualities that are missing in the Mummy franchise. First and foremost, Indiana Jones movies gave us a memorable hero; thus, it's his name in the title, not the villain's. People are there to see Indy overcome evil, not meaningless monsters making mayhem. A memorable, likeable, admirable hero is a rare thing in the movies; most disposable adventure movies hold our attention by the flair of the villain while the heroes are rather boring, running and shooting and giving the monster something to chase. Can you imagine The Mummy Returns re-titled Rick O'Connell Returns? I don't think so. Director Steven Sommers seems determined to recycle as much of the Indiana Jones franchise as he can without lawsuits for plagiarism, aspiring for the same kind of fame and fortune. Sean Means at also saw unsettling rip-offs from other films: "the Jules Verne-like dirigible with the African Queen fuselage … and swordfights between [the women] that prove Sommers was one of the millions who saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." This provokes The New York Times' Elvis Mitchell to claim, "The Mummy Returns may be the least original motion picture ever. It even beats its 1999 predecessor … because at least the first film wasn't stealing from itself in addition to the collected works of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and Universal's 1930's genre films."

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Many will claim that critical analyses of these action movies are pointless. "Hey, quit taking it so seriously," a few friends have told me. "It's just meant to be fun." That may be the case. Critics can sometimes be snobs. But some of us prefer movies that are as fun to think about afterwards as they are to watch. Or, put another way, bring back Indiana Jones.

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More monsters wreaked havoc this week in The Forsaken, a derivative, hyperviolent, gory vampire movie that most critics found far from scary or even entertaining. Preview's writer calls the film "a teen version of 1998's John Carpenter's Vampires" and concludes that "this film has little new to offer and shouldn't make a much of a dent at the box office. The movie is filled with gratuitous nudity, graphic violence, and excessive foul language." "Like the undead in Near Dark and From Dusk Till Dawn," notes Entertainment Weekly's Bruce Fretts, "these sunlight phobic creatures inexplicably hang out in the blindingly bright Southwest." Fretts cautions viewers of the film's "Weed Eater editing" and gratuitous violence. One incident in particular troubles him: "A cop who pulls Rex over for speeding gets blown away by a vampire with a shotgun and then has his body set ablaze with gasoline. Somebody call Joe Lieberman." Fretts is not exaggerating—as newspapers report foolish and dangerous youngsters repeating acts of violence they see onscreen, this is not the sort of thing that belongs in frivolous entertainment.

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Side Dishes

Meanwhile, a far more troubling monster disturbed moviegoers who sought out Faithless. The monster is infidelity, and the devastation it wreaks on the family at the center of this picture is reportedly a difficult thing to endure. Most of the names and specifics here are fictional—like Marianne, the unfaithful wife, and David, the man who interferes with Marianne's marriage to an older man simply called "Bergman"—but fans of Ingmar Bergman films will recognize the semi-autobiographical nature of his writing. They may also notice that director Liv Ullman, who has played an important role in Bergman's life, brings notes of grace to the story of a man who cannot forgive himself.

Movieguide notes that the film is "a beautifully crafted movie in the tradition of Ingmar Bergman." "In its intense way," Ted Baehr writes, "Faithless is a diatribe against adultery, a condemnation of a faithless culture, a refutation of a life poorly lived. For an older audience, it may say to them that they need to reconsider their lives and give more joy and faithfulness to those around them. Like a well-crafted symphony, this is not a movie for everyone, but it almost redeems the angst that can be found in Ingmar Bergman's movies. Liv Ullman has learned from Bergman and turned his sense of shame into a longing for something more—perhaps even God." Preview's unnamed critic observes, "the film … shows the emotional devastation caused by adultery and subsequent divorce." This review also notes that, "It may be a hit on the art-house circuit, but Bergman films rarely find large audiences willing to sit through the lengthy emotional treks." Both reviews caution viewers of scenes of a sexual nature that include nudity.

Mainstream critics seemed ecstatic to have such a rich movie experience during this dry season. "Faithless is not made of soap opera sincerity," writes Roger Ebert, "but from the messiness of people who might later wish they had behaved differently." Peter Brunette at exclaims, "All this without the slightest concession to MTV editing, graphic sexuality, unconvincingly 'sympathetic' characters, or clearly marked ethical boundaries to help us decide what to think. The pace of the first half of the movie is so slow that you will be tempted to give up. Don't. It's completely clear in retrospect that the inordinate power of the last third of the film depends entirely on the lengthy setting up that has preceded it."

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Michael Wilmington at the Chicago Tribune offers higher praise: "Most of us simply suffer through the anguish of our lives, or try the best we can to learn from it. In Faithless, the 82-year-old Ingmar Bergman takes one of the most painful, shameful episodes of his own life and … transmutes it into magical, brilliant artistry." He calls the films of Ullmann and Bergman "some of the major films of the 20th century", and Faithless "one of the screen's finest portrayals of infidelity and its consequences." He concludes, "Some people may dismiss Faithless as overlong and repetitive, perhaps even moralistic, but it takes us to the very core of drama. This is a near perfect film."

At The Village Voice, Michael Atkinson goes further, not only noting the film's excellence, but that it signifies the emergence of an important new theme in contemporary filmmaking: the responsibility of parenthood. "Bergman is nothing if not an artist finely focused on secret narrative weaponry and snowballing decimation … 'Is this how we pay?' Marianne murmurs at one point, just as the movie subtly refocuses upon the actual cost of whimsical family collapse—the needless, hellacious dynamiting of a child's world. Faithless becomes contingent on that little girl, on the moment when she closes up and walks out of the room, and in that Bergman has sampled the new great theme of modern culture: parental anxiety. The plight of children as they suffer the whims of the adult world has become one of movies' primary issues."

Maybe this calls for a sequel … The Mommy Returns.

Still Cooking

Free of monsters and messy realistic human drama, the Sylvester Stallone actioner Driven continued to draw audiences. This week, proposes questions for further discussion of the film: "Everything in life is competition, and we want to succeed and win, just like the characters, because we see all around us, in sports, in business, in schools, that winning is everything. This message of 'doing what it takes to win' often means we shut out people, throw away what is truly important and lose our focus, like the characters in the movie. In a competitive situation, can you really be a winner without finishing first? Most people would probably say they believe "winning isn't everything" but in today's society, does that notion still hold true?" (See our earlier roundup of reviews here.)

Next week:A Knight's Tale and other early entries in the summer movie season get their share of critical responses.

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Jeffrey Overstreet is on the board of Promontory Artists Association, a non-profit organization based in Seattle, which provides community, resources, and encouragement for Christian artists. He edits an artists' magazine (The Crossing), publishes frequent film and music reviews on his Web site (Looking Closer), and is at work on a series of novels.

Related Elsewhere

See earlier Film Forum postings for these other movies in the box-office top ten: Bridget Jones's Diary, Spy Kids, Along Came a Spider, Blow, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Joe Dirt, One Night at McCool's, Memento, and Town and Country.