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A fun and occasionally thrilling return of 'The Mummy'

Let's call the roll:

At the end of the 1911 silent short called "The Mummy," the actual Mummy married the professor who had rehabbed her for modern polite society. In 1932, Boris Karloff was "The Mummy" and delighted and scared the willies out of everyone.The director was Karl Freund who went on to, yes, invent the three-camera set up for modern sitcoms in "I Love Lucy."

In 1959, Christopher Lee was "The Mummy," angrily hunting for all those who had besmirched the tomb of his favorite ancient Egyptian princess. In 1999, Arnold Vosloo was "The Mummy" and impressed the heck out of most of us by just opening his mouth and letting a plague of locusts fly out.

In the newest version of "The Mummy," the Mummy is again female for the first time in the modern movie era. She doesn't marry anyone, though. She's played by the beauteous Sofia Boutella ("Kingsman") and has designs on Tom Cruise, who plays a weaselly Army sergeant given to looting antiquities from around the Middle East. All she wants, after 5,000 years of confinement, is to make him a God so he can live forever with her.

He's reluctant. He's content with Annabelle Wallis, the wisecracking Egyptologist with whom he just had a one-night stand of controversial duration. (She claims its high point lasted 15 seconds. Needless to say, he disputes that.)

The director is Alex Kurtzman, You'll find his credit on TV's "Hawaii Five-O" and "Scorpion."

This is jolly good summer fun at the movies for the first hour. It's scary, exciting (close to thrilling at times) and, in the theater I saw it at, so thunderous that the floor shook and the seats rumbled. It was as close as a local movie has ever come to being an amusement park ride.

It got a little overly busy in the final reel (as they quaintly used to say) but, hey, that's true of all the summer blockbusters. Some brilliant director some day will figure out ways to keep down the congestion and body count at the end and amp up the closing suspense to the max. He or she will save a ton of money and be receiving public gratitude for years.

I thought I was back at another Universal Pictures bonanza which made a big point of rumbling seats and vibrating floors --"Earthquake" which introduced "Sensurround" for doing all that and making people happier than Charlton Heston ever could.

What struck me as delightful about this "Mummy" is the moment a portly Russell Crowe, with his voice deepened to Orson Wellesian octave, introduced himself as Dr. Henry Jekyll. He explains coolly, that after a regrettable lab mishap, he sometimes develops "an unquenchable thirst for chaos and suffering." Just like summer movie audiences, though he goes about it differently.

Yes, there's some Jekyll/Hyde business in here to remind movie scholars of all those giddy times when Universal movies hauled in horror figures of all sorts to do cameos in other movies, just for the chill and thrill of it all.

What happens here is that our boy Tom, in rascal mode, his Egyptologist amour and his enraptured Mummy fly back to London from the Middle East to retrieve a magic stone which will let the Mummy stab people to death and give them eternal life afterward. A lot of fighting happens. So do spiders the size of Lebron James' hands. And beautiful women being embalmed with Mercury while chatting about it. They have all, it seems, angered the gods.

Somehow, they expect us to believe that a cursed soldier of fortune will be able to return to megaplexes a few years from now and give Tom Cruise a new Mummy franchise to play with. Maybe so. Hate to be skeptical but it might just anger the gods too: in the meantime, this movie won't. I think they're chortling along with the rest of us.


"The Mummy"

 Three stars out of four

Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabette Wallis and Courtney B. Vance in Alex Kurtzman's newest tale of footloose terrors from ancient Egypt. PG-13 for abundant scares, partial nudity and some suggestiveness. 110 minutes



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