Tom Cruise wants (or maybe doesn’t want) his ‘Mummy’

If you try to marry a major star to a familiar story where the plot is really the star, the result is likely to be uneven at best.

So it is with “The Mummy,” which probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Tom Cruise vs. a legendary monster? “Sure!,” said those who gave it the green light.

The problem is that Cruise’s enormous fame and presence counterbalance whatever scares there are, which is why a movie like this almost always works better with actors who are just under the radar. Even if it has flaws, it’s more believable.

A mummy targeting Tom Cruise? Gee, who do you think is going to win? (You have 0.2 seconds. We’ll wait.)

As utterly predictable as the outcome is here, it’s strangely amusing to watch Cruise attempt this genre. He plays a seeker and seller of ancient artifacts, and he’s invaded by the spirit of a sinister princess (Sofia Boutella, the agile alien of last year’s “Star Trek Beyond”). What’s weird is that Cruise treats the infiltration as no more bothersome than the common cold. Call us crazy, but being occupied by a mummy would seem to merit a more desperate response.

Russell Crowe turns up as another famous figure of horror lore – that won’t be spoiled here – and Annabelle Wallis is appropriately beautiful and brave as the archeologist who partners with Cruise in more ways than one. “New Girl’s” Jake Johnson does what he can with the traditional hapless-sidekick role.

“The Mummy” was made with the idea of it being the first element of a “Dark Universe” franchise updating many of the horror movies on which Universal Pictures was built. That still could happen, but there are lots of lessons to be learned from this first step.

Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with recycling what’s worked before – studios do it all the time – but the danger is in straying too far from the original recipe. It’s easier to take chances with a Brendan Fraser, whose screen image still was being formed during his “Mummy” tenure, than with a solidly secured superstar as in the current case,

That’s the basic trouble with this iteration of ‘The Mummy,” that it has to decide who it wants to be a star vehicle for: the title character or for Tom Cruise. Frankly, there’s no contest there, and the result makes “The Mummy” not as tightly wrapped as it should be.

Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton in “The Mummy”
Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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