When we pick back up with Rick and Evelyn O'Connell, they're a bored, retired couple clinking their teacups in Oxfordshire, England. Set in 1947, the new film takes place 24 years after the original 1999 movie and 14 years after we last saw the family in 2001's "The Mummy Returns." In other words, the O'Connells are teetering on the edge of middle age.
But of course, there wouldn't be a sequel if their tedium went unrelieved. In fitting with the trends of 2008, the couple makes off for China; they've been charged with returning a precious artifact -- the Eye of Shangri-la -- to its country of origin. Perchance, their son Alex (Luke Ford) is now working as an archaeologist in the Shanghai area and has just made a discovery: the well-preserved, booby-trapped tomb of an ancient Qin Dynasty emperor. Does it go without saying? In so doing, Alex awakens yet another mummy.
Brendan Fraser reprises his cheeky, career-defining role as Rick, whereas actress Rachel Weisz was traded for the passable Maria Bello to play whip-smart Evelyn. On the other hand, newcomer Ford is far too manly to be a believable son to this still relatively youthful pair, though he speaks in the same deep, dopey voice as Fraser.
The film has its flaws: There's plenty of lame dialogue, including a stomach-turning exchange in which archaeological terms such as "excavation" are applied to sexually desirable women. And the talents of two exceptional Chinese actors and martial artists, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, go underappreciated. Their fight scenes are filmed close up and cut with great speed, so viewers can't quite appreciate their graceful moves.
But the special effects are surely satisfying. One action-packed sequence has a pickup truck and an ancient chariot battling it out on Shanghai's claustrophobic streets. As O'Connell jumps between a stolen truck and one of the mummy's terra cotta horses, Alex pulls his maneuvers from beneath the chariot -- that is, until he's spat out the back like yesterday's trash. Remarkably, no one gets hurt.
Just when the sophisticated viewer is rolling her eyes, director Rob Cohen asserts his sense of humor. The film's best quality is that it continues the "Mummy" tradition of mocking its own big-budget gratuitousness. Thanks to special effects, the film has heroic yetis and a silly yak. Most hilarious of all, the mummy is imbued with special regenerative powers: Whenever his terra cotta face gets shot off, he simply tenses the neck muscles and voilà -- a fresh, earthen mug.