Friday, August 29, 2008

Traitor: Issues of faith

Traitor (2008) • View trailer for Traitor
3.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for violence, brief profanity and dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.29.08
Buy DVD: Traitor • Buy Blu-Ray: Traitor [Blu-ray]

Espionage thrillers have become quite distressing.

Heinous terrorist acts aren't really all that new; all the way back in 1977, the film adaptation of Thomas Harris' Black Sunday was a nail- biting race to derail a plan to detonate an explosives-laden blimp hovering over the annual Super Bowl game.
The quietly honorable Samir Horn (Don Cheadle, left) has trouble explaining
his point of view, let alone his behavior, to a shadowy CIA contractor (Jeff
Daniels) who tends to favor ruthless "solutions" to any perceived problem.

Even so, the landscape has changed in these uneasy early years of the 21st century. Whereas previous fictitious plots — suggested, as they often were, by real-world events — generally involved lone crackpots, single assassins or at worst a small group of dedicated killers, today's politically charged action flicks often focus upon the legions of religiously brainwashed Islamic fanatics who've replaced skinheads and covert Nazis as the reflexive villains of choice.

And, let's face it, a plot to have 50 bomb-toting true believers detonate their explosives — while riding 50 buses filled with average folks taking random journeys across the great American heartland — feels a little too possible to be dismissed as sheer screenwriter's fantasy.

But writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff's Traitor takes awhile to get that far. In the meanwhile, we're given a fascinating character study of a former U.S. special-ops agent gone rogue: a man given quite persuasive substance thanks to another of star Don Cheadle's immaculately layered performances.

To say that Samir Horn (Cheadle) is complex would be the gravest of understatements; although devout enough to carefully unroll a carpet and pray even when in prison, Samir is introduced while on a mission in Yemen, as he supplies explosives to Islamic terrorists quite prepared to use them. And not just the explosives themselves, but the knowledge required to design foolproof bombs.

"I can prevent you from blowing yourselves up," he explains, somewhat mordantly adding, "unintentionally, anyway."

The quip does not go over well with Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), an Islamic "patriot" who doesn't trust Samir for a second. His suspicions seem well-founded when their meeting is interrupted by local soldiers — the good guys — assisted by visiting counter-terrorism FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough).

As it happens, Clayton and Archer have been trailing Samir for quite some time; Clayton believes their quarry opportunistic but not a radical ... in other words, somebody who could be "turned" toward U.S. interests. Samir surprises them; even the threat of an almost certain death in a Yemeni prison does not bring a flicker to the almost sadly analytical gaze he turns on Clayton.

If anything, the offer seems to insult him, and further harden the as-yet-undisclosed resolve that dictates his actions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars -- Animated groan

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) • View trailer for Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Three stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for unrelenting action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.28.08
Buy DVD: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

OK George, now you're just getting greedy.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars never should have been released theatrically; it's the sort of slap-dash, blatantly opportunistic project for which Disney has become infamous, with its direct-to-DVD "sequels" such as The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.
As if Anakin Skywalker, right, hasn't enough to worry about, he's also in
charge of the insufferable Ahsoka Tano, his new Padawan learner (apprentice);
when this character isn't getting into trouble, she indulges in too-frequent and
always insufferable bouts of The Cutes.

Although these probably are short-term financial gains, in the long run they do nothing but weaken the original franchise and dilute our pleasant memories of the first films.

The same is true of Clone Wars, which feels like precisely what it is: an overlong promo for the cartoon series debuting this fall on TNT and The Cartoon Network. (Indeed, it's actually three half-hour episodes stitched together.) And, frankly, that's where this film belongs: on TV. It would have made an impressive small-screen first chapter of the series to come ... but on the big screen, commanding movie theater ticket prices?

Not a chance.

Granted, a sizable segment of the Star Wars fan base will gobble up any new visits to this galaxy far, far away; I'm sure some folks even adored The Star Wars Holiday Special, which left glazed eyes on the rest of us back in November 1978. For the truly ravenous, though, too much never is enough; such passion has fueled scores of paperback adventures and kept dozens of marginal sci-fi writers comfortably housed and fed.

Do I sound cynical? It's hard not to, when something like Clone Wars serves up such ammunition. More than anything else, this film demonstrates that Lucas has abandoned any notion of pleasing adult viewers, and now is content to cater to the much younger demographic that probably also loved 1984's The Ewok Adventure (another TV miscalculation).

In fairness, much of this film looks pretty cool, most particularly the space-bound skirmishes between ships of varying sizes, and all land-based encounters with droids and other mechanized agents of destruction. At moments, such action scenes have the imaginative scope and thunderous fury of the beloved clashes between X-wing fighters and Death Stars that still set the hearts of aging fans a-fluttering.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tell No One: Spread the word!

Tell No One (2008) • View trailer for Tell No One
4.5 stars (out of five). Unrated, with nudity, sexual content, violence, profanity and dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.22.08
Buy DVD: Tell No One • Buy Blu-Ray: Tell No One [Blu-ray]

To employ a phrase I don't get to use nearly often enough, this is one of the best pictures Alfred Hitchcock never made.

French filmmaker Guillaume Canet's riveting adaptation of Harlan Coben's novel, Tell No One, hits the ground running and never lets up. It's a mature, thoughtful and rigorously intelligent thriller that eschews noisy gunfire and car chases in favor of solid character development and a twisty plot that demands one's full attention.
Alex (François Cluzet) watches while his wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze),
cuts another notch into the tree that has a carved heart with their initials: a
treasured reminder of yet anothe ryear spent in happily married bliss. Sadly,
this is the deliriously romantic calm before a truly horrific storm; Alex and
Margot are about to be ripped apart in the worst possible way.

That is, alas, the one minor drawback. The subtitles don't capture quite all of the essential dialogue — anybody with the slightest familiarity with French will catch phrases that get left behind in translation — and that forces us American viewers to watch even more carefully.

Ah, but the rewards are worthwhile. Canet guides a solid cast through a meticulously constructed plot that doesn't waste a line of dialogue or even the slightest of background characters.

François Cluzet stars as Dr. Alexandre Beck, a pediatrician introduced with his wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), as they enjoy a lively dinner with friends and family. The following day, Alex and Margot — childhood sweethearts who grew up together and eventually married — enact a familiar ritual, as they find a particular tree in a lakeside forest, and add another notch to the carved heart that carries their initials.

This is followed by a sexy swim, and then a contemplative cuddle on the lake's floating wooden platform.

Margot returns to shore first, and then Alex hears something. He listens, catches what sounds like a cry of alarm, and swims madly back to the dock, only to be beaten unconscious and left to drown.

Fade to black.

Eight years later, Alex has gotten on with his life, although he still desperately misses Margot, murdered that horrible night by a rampaging serial killer. The circumstances remain murky; even with an obvious suspect, the police mistrusted Alex for quite some time, despite his having spent three days in a coma. Although no physical evidence tied him to the crime, his unconscious body was found on the dock ... and nobody can explain how he got out of the water.

Now, like some ghastly resurrected nightmare, Alex is forced to confront the entire incident again: Police have discovered the bodies of two men, killed by gunfire and buried at the lake not far from where Margot's body was found. One carries a key that leads to a safe-deposit box, the contents of which include some damning photos of Margot, at some point prior to her death, and taken after she was beaten badly by ... somebody.

Once again, police suspicion falls on Alex.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bottle Shock: A vintage tale

Bottle Shock (2008) • View trailer for Bottle Shock
3.5 stars (out of five). Rated PG-13, for brief profanity, fleeting drug use and mild sensuality
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.21.08
Buy DVD: Bottle Shock • Buy Blu-Ray: Bottle Shock [Blu-ray]

In terms of French cultural pride, nothing could have been more catastrophic.

Consider it from their point of view: They may have had to acknowledge American military superiority during World War II, may have had to surrender the field in terms of subsequent economic clout, may have watched in horror as boorish, lowest-common-denominator marketing behemoths such as McDonald's and Disneyland infiltrated the entire known universe ... but France always had its wine.
As Bo (Chris Pine, right) watches from a safe distance, visiting British wine
connoisseur Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) dubiously eyes the jelly glass that
holds a small-time Napa Valley winemaker's prize vintage. The supercilious
Spurrier little realizes that, after the first swallow, his opinion of California
wines will begin to climb ... and that's only the beginning.

No matter what else, the French knew they remained superior when it came to transforming grapes into a libation that had fueled metaphor-laden poets for the same hundreds of years that winemaking techniques had been perfected in regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Chablis.

In matters of The Grape, the French reigned supreme ... and they never let the rest of the world forget it.

Until that horrible afternoon in 1976, during what came to be known as the Judgment of Paris.

Director/co-writer Randall Miller's Bottle Shock employs this actual event — so famous that its results have been preserved for eternity in the Smithsonian (and I'll bet the French don't think much of that) — as the setting for an amiable little drama that lacks the focus and greater screenwriting savvy of Sideways, but nonetheless tells an engaging story.

Or, to construct an appropriate metaphor, Miller's film is more Merlot than Cabernet: certainly pleasing to the palate, but not nearly as complex or precise.

The problem, mostly, is one of focus. One must greet any film that "requires" four screenwriters with suspicion, because the results often are overcooked in an effort to be all things to all viewers. When Miller and fellow writers Jody Savin, Ross Schwartz and Lannette Pabon concentrate on the actual details leading up to that fateful day during our bicentennial year — and particularly when Alan Rickman is on the screen — everything is a droll and understated delight.

Unfortunately, too much screen time is wasted on the good-natured hijinks and lack of focus from the other young, counter-culture protagonists. It's as if Miller & Co. worried that their wine-drenched narrative might be considered as stuffy as French arrogance to teen and twentysomething viewers, and therefore found it "necessary" to sex up these proceedings with a contrived romantic triangle involving the frequently underdressed Rachael Taylor, who added a similar dose of pulchritude to last year's Transformers.

Hey, she's charming, intelligent and easy on the eyes ... but she's also frequently distracting here, particularly when the screen time could be better spent on some fairly essential backstory elements that never get properly addressed.

The year is 1976, and the narrative initially bounces back and forth between two settings, starting in Paris, where wine connoisseur and displaced Briton Steven Spurrier (Rickman) scrambles for a way to put his lovingly designed but invariably empty tasting room/retail outlet on the map. His next-door neighbor, the mildly vulgar but definitely more savvy Maurice (Dennis Farina), insists that part of the problem is Spurrier's blinkered purchasing instincts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Henry Poole is Here: Whimsical fantasy

Henry Poole Is Here (2008) • View trailer for Henry Poole Is Here
3.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for brief profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.15.08
Buy DVD: Henry Poole Is Here • Buy Blu-Ray: Henry Poole Is Here [Blu-ray]

The quiet, unshaven man, some unknown sorrow weighing him down like the chains binding Marley's ghost, pays cash for the dilapidated, cookie-cutter house in a drab, middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood.

He moves in with minimal furniture, closes all the drapes and pulls all the blinds, and withdraws into a subsistence diet of doughnuts, pizza and alcohol. He wants only to be left alone.
Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) only wants to be left alone, and he naively believes
that retreating within his own house will afford that level of privacy. Imagine
his chagrin, then, when the house itself has other ideas...

God — fate, karma, whatever — has other plans.

Henry Poole Is Here is a quiet little treasure: a rare movie that treats faith, hope and religious conviction with a dignity too frequently absent on the big screen. Director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies) and writer Albert Torres, making an impressive big-screen scripting debut, deliver a tender, character-driven drama that at times feels very much like 2005's Millions, an equally delicate British film that confronted Earth-bound miracles with a similar compassion.

Pellington's film is unhurried and expectant, much like its central character. The atmosphere and approach are wholly unlike this director's previous films and TV work — notably half a dozen episodes of Cold Case — which tended to be exploitative and amped-up. Not all directors can so successfully alter their approach to fit the material, but Pellington certainly does so here; he's perfectly content to let Torres' narrative unfold at its own measured pace.

The result is painfully intimate — far more authentic than any so-called "reality" project, such as the laughably unpersuasive American Teen — as if we were eavesdropping on this man at the worst possible moment.

At the risk of sounding like a soapbox lecturer, this once again demonstrates the degree to which scripted drama — which is to say, fiction — can feel far more real than staged and hokey "documentaries."

The title character, Henry, is played by Luke Wilson at his mopey, disheveled best. The actor keeps his usual smugness and smart mouth corked (or Pellington does), instead delivering a carefully modulated less-is-more performance. Henry dresses so sloppily, tends to himself so badly, that at first blush he could be mistaken for a street person ... but even a casual glimpse into his eyes reveals intelligence, pain and something else. Betrayal? Anger?

Answers come slowly.

Henry has purchased this house, in this neighborhood, because it's close to the house in which he grew up. That one, sadly, wasn't on the market; instead, he contents himself with occasionally staring at it from across the street. Aside from these visits, and his equally brief sallies to a nearby grocery store, he tries to remain indoors.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pineapple Express: A total lemon

Pineapple Express (2008) • View trailer for Pineapple Express
One star (out of five). Rating: R, for drug use, violence and relentless profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.14.08
Buy DVD: Pineapple Express • Buy Blu-Ray: Pineapple Express (Unrated + BD Live) [Blu-ray]

Alas, the Judd Apatow Express has been derailed.

Whether functioning as producer, writer or director, Apatow's recent efforts as a one-man movie machine have fallen into three categories: the good (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), the enjoyably bad (Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and the profoundly ugly (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Drillbit Taylor, You Don't Mess with the Zohan).
Convinced that they've been identified to a dangerous drug baron, Saul (James
Franco, left) and Dale (Seth Rogen, right) confront a mid-level supplier — Danny
McBride, as Red — and bind him with duct tape in an effort to persuade him to
admit whether he ratted them out.

Pineapple Express is almost worse than Zohan.

This leaden, interminable stoner comedy is like a lousy Cheech & Chong flick with violence tossed into the mix. It's aimless, plotless, pointless and atrociously acted, and looks for all the world as if the actors turned up on the set each day as genuinely stoned as the characters being played.

Such work being done, I hasten to add, after the so-called writers — Apatow, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — contributed their effort while flying similarly high.

It's the sole explanation, because only a reefer-hazed arrested adolescent could imagine that this low-rent turkey was even coherent, let alone funny. It appears to have been made on a budget of $1.79, with no money spent on clothing, set design or even credible gunfire effects.

Director David Gordon Green — such a comedown from 2003's All the Real Girls and last year's intriguing (if failed) Snow Angels — apparently selected some chance alleyway, ugly tract house or deserted section of woods, the cast showed up in scruffy street clothes, everybody improvised on the spot, and another five minutes of footage were in the can.

Repeat 22 times, assemble the results completely at random, and you have a movie.

Well ... this movie, anyway.

The story, such as it is:

Rogen stars as wily process server Dale Denton, a scruffy mutt of a guy who mostly enjoys his job because he can listen to talk radio while staying stoned most of the time. He gets his weed from the mopey Saul Silver (James Franco), who impresses our hero on this day with a primo product: a rare new strain of pot dubbed Pineapple Express.

En route to serving his next summons, and while toking on this latest acquisition, Dale is astonished to see his target — Gary Cole, as Ted Jones — murder somebody with the assistance of a corrupt female police officer (Rosie Perez). In a panic, Dale tosses the roach and drives away, returning to Saul's apartment to explain what just went down.

Ah, but Ted turns out to be a truly dangerous drug lord, and the source of Pineapple Express, which he immediately recognizes from the abandoned roach. He sends two goons — Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan, doing a frankly insulting riff on John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, from Pulp Fiction — to pressure the only guy who'd taken delivery of said product (Danny McBride, as Red) into revealing the identify of the only guy he sold it to.

That would be Saul.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Brideshead Revisited: Too brief a visit

Brideshead Revisited (2008) • View trailer for Pineapple Express
Three stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for chaste nudity and some sensuality
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.8.08
Buy DVD: Brideshead Revisited • Buy Blu-Ray: Brideshead Revisited (2008) [Blu-ray]

Much as I wanted director Julian Jarrold's handling of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited to stand on its own merits, this big-screen adaptation pales when compared to 1981's 11-hour British miniseries, which became such a must-see event for so many fans.
Although he has been brought to the Brideshead estate as a guest of the
emotionally fragile Sebastian (Ben Whishaw, right), with whom he even
indulges in a summer fling, Charles (Matthew Goode) changes his tune upon
meeting his friend's sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell).

Even at a relatively economical 336 pages, Waugh's 1945 novel is a dense read with an extremely weighty subtext: the decline of the English Catholic aristocracy, as viewed through the eyes of an unsophisticated, middle-class young man — Charles Ryder — utterly out of his depth after getting tangled within the toxic relationships that characterize the aristocratic Flyte family.

John Mortimer (Rumple of the Bailey), the genius author and playwright who adapted the book for the 1981 miniseries, had both the narrative skill and the leisurely pacing necessary to showcase all of the book's many characters; the result was a sumptuous, melodramatic feast that left viewers feeling that they had, indeed, witnessed the passing of an entire British era.

This new film, by comparison, limits its concerns to Charles and the key members of the Flyte family; we get no sense of the story's broader implications. Writers Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock concentrate so relentlessly on this particular family's Catholic guilt that we eventually view them as a dysfunctional aberration, rather than a symbol of the crumbling class structure taking place throughout the entire country.

Then, too, the focus on the story's primary romantic triangle takes place at the expense of all the equally fascinating supporting players, not to mention several other members of the Flyte family. (I particularly miss the wonderfully flamboyant Boy Mulcaster, reduced here to a pair of eyeblink cameos.)

And when this condensed character treatment is coupled with the film's disconcerting habit of diving back and forth in time, sometimes leaping ahead many years and leaving us to wonder what took place in between, or what year we're in now, the result feels like a badly hacked-up version of what should have been at least a four-hour film.

Jarrold and editor Chris Gill get no points for narrative clarity.

On the positive side, the film absolutely drips with an atmosphere so simultaneously opulent and poisonous that we cannot help feeling the moral decay that plagues so many of these characters. Then, too, the acting is uniformly excellent, and this is no small thing; anything less, and I'd be making unfavorable comparisons to the miniseries' Jeremy Irons (Charles), Anthony Andrews (Sebastian Flyte) and Diana Quick (Julia Flyte).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: Still a good fit

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008) • View trailer for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
3.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for some sensuality
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.7.08
Buy DVD: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 • Buy Blu-Ray: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 [Blu-ray]

Earlier this summer, plenty of fans couldn't wait to be re-united with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.

I'm just as pleased to spend more time with Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget.
As the summer following their first year at college draws to a close, events bring
these four best friends — from left, Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Lena (Alexis
Bledel), Carmen (America Ferrera) and Bridget (Blake Lively) — to the
swooningly romantic Mediterranean island of Santorini, where Lena spent such
a pivotal time with her Greek grandparents in the first film.

The young heroines of Ann Brashares' Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants novels made an engaging leap to the big screen in 2005, in a sweet little film that featured respectable work by rising young stars America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively.

At the time, Bledel and Tamblyn were the ones with highly visible careers, on TV's Gilmore Girls and Joan of Arcadia.

Interesting, then, how things change in three years. Gilmore Girls is no more, and Bledel's face has become a bit less familiar; Tamblyn, perhaps the quartet's strongest actress, remains quite busy with indie film projects. On the other hand, both Ferrera and Lively have become the stars of the moment, thanks to Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl.

All of which makes this reunion even more special, because it's unusual for a sequel to attract all its major and supporting players.

I'm also pleased with the approach adopted by new director Sanaa Hamri, taking over for Ken Kwapis. (Screenwriter Elizabeth Chandler worked on both films, although she solos here, having shared credit with Delia Ephron on the first.) Kwapis' approach was a bit too light and frothy, as perhaps was more suited to the first film's focus on flirtations and first love.

The tone is somewhat more serious this time, as established relationships hit the skids and the girls' diverging personalities threaten to destroy the closely knit bond that has held them since childhood. Hamri respects these more serious elements; her film is not marred by (for example) the frivolous and frequent pop song montages that Kwapis employed to excess.

One could argue that this is a revealing distinction between how a male director views young female relationships, and how this same concept is treated by a female director.

Hamri, making her big-screen film debut, is to be congratulated; her approach is noticeably more mature.

The only niggling problem is the relentless forward march of time. All four actresses looked just barely right in the first film, as 16-year-olds (and it was a push for at least two of them). But now they definitely look a bit too old to play 19.

Ah, well. Nothing new in Hollywood. And putting that issue aside, it's remarkably easy to once more become immersed in the lives of these characters.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor -- Crumbling Saga

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) • View trailer for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Three stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for plenty of grody action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.1.08
Buy DVD: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor • Buy Blu-Ray: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Deluxe Edition) [Blu-ray]

I have learned, over the years, to diminish my expectations when movies open in a particular manner:

• In a psychiatrist's office (only bad thrillers and horror flicks do this);

• With a voice-over prologue inserted to compensate for eleventh-hour editing that rendered the storyline incomprehensible;

Facing a veritable army of re-animated terra cotta soldiers, Rick and Evelyn
O'Connell (Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello) are relived (?) when their small band
of defenders is joined by thousands of revenge-seeking skeletons long-buried
beneath the Great Wall of China.
• With an extended flashback sequence that begins to feel longer than the film itself.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor falls into the latter category, although this is by no means its only flaw.

Action director Rob Cohen — taking over this franchise from creator Stephen Sommers, who helmed the first two entries — has delivered precisely the cartoon one would expect from the guy who brought us The Fast and the Furious and XXX. Cohen behaves like a second-unit stunt director; he rarely wastes time with trifles such as plot logic or characterization, preferring instead to charge from one frantic chase or fight scene to the next.

His films are breathless examples of cinematic whiplash, which I suppose is fine for the video game set, but less so for everybody else. Cohen obviously never learned the wisdom of pacing, or of balancing the frantic stuff with calmer scenes, so that viewers might relax for a moment and then better appreciate the next thrilling rush.

A nonstop diet of anything becomes tiresome, and that's the major problem with this Mummy: It never lets up, and that's boring. Older fans will recall that this misjudgment also plagued Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which similarly went from one crazed action sequence to the next, with nary a pause for reflection or — God forbid — character development.

Then, too, scripters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar subscribe to the mistaken notion that anything goes in fantasy, and that consistency therefore is nothing more than a word in the dictionary, somewhere between clumsy and crummy. That's a newbie writing mistake, because of course the opposite is true: If we're to care a whit for the heroes and villains in fantasies, then they must be granted consistent strengths and weaknesses.

It simply doesn't work, as is the case here, when the villain can surmount any situation by suddenly whipping up some new power, such as morphing into a three-headed dragon. Nor is the situation helped by the sudden appearance of a magical knife — the only weapon that can defeat him! — that springs up out of nowhere, introduced by one character as an afterthought apparently inserted into the fifth draft of page 35.

Mostly, though, this Mummy doesn't work because too many key actors can't inhabit the movie.