Wrapping his lips around the more-is-better notion of moviemaking, writer-director Stephen Sommers' sense of proportion of action to story is even more out of whack than his mildly amusing The Mummy. Far from an homage (or parody, for that matter) of the 1930s series, The Mummy featured a sheepish Brendan Fraser as the generically named Rick O'Connell trying to whip Imhotep's mummy ass while getting the girl (Rachel Weisz) and making the world safe for Industrial Light & Magic. Sommers' script and direction features lots of special effects, not enough zippy one-liners but passable chemistry between the leads and the bigness films like this need to hold interest.
But feeling as most directors do that they have to top themselves, Sommers doesn't go over the top; he straps onto the space shuttle Endeavour and screams "Giddyup!" With seemingly no down time for the hero and heroine (now married) to catch their breath, the audience is left feeling the same way. And not in a good way. It's a rollercoaster ride, all right -- right after ingesting five corn dogs. Case in point: No sooner do Rick and their feisty 9-year-old son Alex (Freddie Boath) rescue Evelyn from a new set of bad guys than they switch up and kidnap Alex -- in the same scene! Fraser's "here we go again" expression is fitting for the audience as well. So it goes as well with virtually every fight and chase scene, which come piled up on the other. Dare we invoke the legacy of the Indiana Jones series, which completely understood the need to build a little suspense with viewers before hitting them with action sequence du jour.
Yes, there's a story, or stories. Let's see, how did it go again? Back in the day, around 3,000 B.C., a non-Imhotep warrior named the Scorpion King (The Rock) sold his soul to an evil entity (this time not Vince McMahon) and with his army went into a deep freeze. They'll all wake up in 1933 (the Year of the Scorpion!). So British museum types decide to resurrect Imhotep (whom we thought dead in the first film, but inevitably and inexplicably is only in hibernation) to do battle with the Scorpion. Or something like that. They need Alex because he's got the key to the tomb in a bracelet locked on his wrist, and Alex is gonna die if his folks don't rescue him, so everyone hauls off to a pyramid that bodes death and apocalypse for all, and so on and so on.
Subplots abound. O'Connell's old ally Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr, playing it straight once again) tries to convince his friend that he's actually an ancient warrior. Evelyn senses she, too, has an ancient connection to their old foes, a subplot that later in the film provides an interesting re-telling of a flashback from the first film. Evelyn's greedy and wimpy brother Jonathan (John Hannah, playing it silly once again) tries to prove his mettle to Ardeth. Alex tries to show he's learned from his parents. Imhotep's still trying to reunite with his lost love Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez, getting more welcome screen time). At the very least, everyone seems to be having a good time through all the chaos.
Some of this is interesting, but much of it clouds the story almost as much as the myriad special effects that Sommers throws at us with zero discretion while cranking the volume up to 11 and rarely toning it down. To his credit, he does keep the tongue-in-cheek lines coming as much as he can, which always help movies like these. When Rick tells the somber Ardeth to lighten up and admonishes his son for the same reason, it's funny. Alex's bizarre comedic chemistry with his intended killer Lock-Nah (Adewale) hits its peak in a hilarious "are we there yet?" exchange. And new sidekick Izzy's (Shaun Parkes) obsession with not getting shot again in the ass brings a chuckle or two. The inclusion of these two African-American characters, it should be noted, lend a little diversity to the film, albeit at the expense of mild stereotyping (a villain, a wise-cracking sidekick).
But with all those beetles and pygmies eating everyone up, and fight scenes battling with sound levels, and subplots changing to more subplots, it's still tough to keep up and enjoy this film. In the end, The Mummy Returns seems a little too wrapped up in itself.