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The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Now that The Mummy franchise seems to have used up all its Egyptian mummy gags, it has moved on to China to mine the myths of another culture. Opening just before all eyes look to Beijing for the Summer Olympics, The Mummy 3 tries to tap into the growing media attention China is currently receiving. The Mummy 3, as with Forbidden Kingdom , is also looking to break new ground in terms of partnering with China on film productions. These films are setting new paradigms for global film partnerships. China represents a huge and still yet untapped potential for film revenue, and by partnering with Chinese film companies, Hollywood films can avoid being branded a "foreign" film and that gets them around that china's import quota (that limits the number of foreign films released each year). But Forbidden Kingdom got the mix of east and west right and delivered at least some solid Asian style fight sequences even if the film as a whole never rose above fluffy diversion. That was a popcorn film that delivered what it promised.

The Mummy 3 , on the other hand, promises grand adventure in an exotic land. But at times I had to admit I wondered why China was willing to partner with the U.S. on this film, which seems to pervert aspects of Chinese history. Although I will give the film credit for some great effects work involving bringing the Terra Cotta Warriors to life. Although the undead army raised to fight them looks suspiciously like the skeletons from Army of Darkness only without the deliberate sense of humor about how goofy they look. Plus when the Emperor is awakened he turns into a dragon at one point that looks suspiciously like King Ghidorah from Godzilla . The effects team could have used a little more originality in executing some of their designs.

Maria Bello as the new Evie and Brendan Fraser as Rick in The Mummy 3 (Universal)

This new film finds Rick (Brendan Fraser) "retired" from his adventuring, and living with his wife Evie (formerly played by British actress Rachel Weisz and now played by the American Maria Bello) in a massive estate. Both seem to miss the adventures that had brought them together but neither seems willing to broach the subject. Although only nine years have passed since the first Mummy adventure, Rick and Evie apparently have a twentysomething son (Luke Ford) who has secretly gone off on an expedition to China. So when an old friend asks them to escort a famous diamond to Asia, the couple leap at the opportunity for some excitement. The trip of course brings them in contact with their son, Evie's brother (John Hannah returning and creating a character that felt like Freddy Corleone from The Godfather, Part II) , and an evil emperor (Jet Li) raised accidentally from the dead and set of destroying mankind.

The film handles the change in actresses quite nicely. Evie is at a reading of her adventure tale and someone asks if she is the character in the book, to which the new actress Maria Bello answers: "No I'm a completely different person." So that was a nice hand off, too bad Bello can't seem to maintain her British accent throughout the film. But I did like the way the relationship between Evie and Rick has gone. It's less combative and more like Nick and Nora Charles (the husband and wife played by William Powell and Myrna Loy in the 1930s Thin Man series). Now the two seem more like a team with jokey but loving repartee. Although Evie does seem to have received some impressive training in martial arts and weaponry since the last time we saw her. Fraser hasn't changed since the first Mummy film back in 1999. He's a big handsome lug, not much of an actor, but easy to like.

Jet Li taking home a fat paycheck and moving on, hopefully back to Hong Kong for a real action flick. (Universal)

In Forbidden Kingdom , there was a big build up to seeing Jackie Chan and Jet Li together for the first time. In the case of The Mummy 3 , the pairing of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh is by no means a first since they fought quite impressively side by side in The Tai Chi Master. But The Mummy 3 does mark the first time they would fight each other as enemies. That's almost as good a match up as Chan vs. Li because the petit former ballet dancer is Hong Kong's premier stuntwoman. Unfortunately, the Li-Yeoh match up is a quick, rather uninspired clash in which it looks like stunt doubles are used. What a letdown! And what a waste of two exceptionally talented Asian stars. And to make matters worse, the film also wastes the special skills of Anthony Wong (who often played creepy bad guys in Hong Kong).

Michelle Yeoh wasted in another Hollywood film (Universal)

I think the descent of The Mummy 3 from just a goodtime adventure flick to total stupidity is symbolized in the moment that some yeti -- raised from the ice to help fight off the Evil Emperor - kick a bomb through some posts and then make a touchdown signal and do a kind of end zone dance. That wasn't funny or cute or clever - it was just dumb and it reminded me that I was watching a lame ass American film pretending to be on an adventure in China. I'm sure director Rob Cohen (who delivered the dreadful Stealth) doesn't help matters. He claims to have a love for China yet none of that affection filters through in this film. He also lacks a flair for delivering action. Maybe he should have hired a complete Asian team of action directors and second unit guys to give a little more zest to the film's action.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence) is a forgettable addition to the Mummy franchise. The first film was entertaining in a big, noisy American way but each film since has gotten successively worse. In a summer where we've had so many good popcorn movies - Iron Man, Hellboy II, Wanted, Mamma Mia! and the distinguished Dark Knight - The Mummy 3 stands out for its inability to tap into that fun, pop entertainment vein. With so much good stuff still in theaters, don't bother with The Mummy 3 . A repeat viewing of any of the other films mentioned would be better than seeing The Mummy 3 for the first time. That makes Brendan Fraser 0 for 2 this summer ( Journey to the Center of the Earth failed even more miserably than The Mummy 3 ).

Companion viewing: The Tai Chi Master, Dr. Wai: The Scriptures With No Words, The Mummy (check out the one with Boris Karloff for a very different take on the embalmed baddie), The Thin Man

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