Latest "Mummy" sequel a tired undertaking

You might not be able to kill a mummy but as "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" demonstrates, you can kill a franchise. ( Reuters )

The third entry in the Universal series starring Brendan Fraser ups the ante in terms of special effects and action, but there's an undeniably tired air to the enterprise.

Arriving in theaters on Friday seven years after the last installment, "The Mummy Returns" (assuming you don't count the "Scorpion King" spinoff), its timing is particularly unfortunate coming right on the heels of the recent "Indiana Jones" reboot.

The China setting - both ancient and 1946 - might prove beneficial thanks to the publicity generated by the Summer Olympics, and the presence of Asian superstars Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh certainly won't hurt.

Strangely enough, in this installment there isn't a mummy in sight. Instead, intrepid adventurers Rick (Fraser) and wife Evelyn (Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz, whose absence might be explained by her winning an Oscar since the last one) are battling a massive army of terra cotta soldiers led by the reanimated evil Dragon Emperor (a wasted Li), who was cursed into suspended animation centuries ago by a beautiful sorceress (a similarly wasted Yeoh) whom he made the mistake of trying to kill.

Also figuring prominently in the rudimentary story line are the couple's now-grown-up son Alex (played in vapid fashion by Luke Ford), an archaeologist following in his parents' footsteps; a tomb guardian (Isabella Leong) who tries to prevent the emperor and his minions from being disturbed; and Jonathan (John Hannah), the loyal sidekick assigned with the task of making sardonic wisecracks: "I hate mummies, they never play fair," he whines.

There are some undeniably cool CGI effects - the terra cotta soldiers are impressive, even if their stiff gait unfortunately brings to mind Laurel and Hardy's "The March of the Wooden Soldiers" - and target audiences are not likely to complain about any paucity of frantically paced action sequences. But too much of the proceedings are silly rather than horrifying, with the nadir being the appearance of some particularly athletic Yetis who briefly pitch in to lend a hand.

Fraser still looks athletically youthful and displays the same engaging presence he exhibited in the recent "Journey to the Center of the Earth," but he can't entirely hide the fact that he's cashing a paycheck amid a divorce. Coming off far worse is a newly brunette Bello, who appears distinctly uncomfortable in the action sequences and who sports an unfortunate British accent to boot.

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