'The Mummy' awkwardly stumbles into Dark Universe

Movie Pass: Tom Cruise in "The Mummy"_00001116
Movie Pass: Tom Cruise in "The Mummy"_00001116

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Movie Pass: Tom Cruise in "The Mummy" 01:37

(CNN)"The Mummy" is a mess, a movie in such a hurry to introduce more monsters under Universal's "Dark Universe" banner that it comes awkwardly wrapped in impenetrable layers of exposition.

Tom Cruise occupies center stage in this not-quite-a-reboot, which features Sofia Boutella ("Kingsman: The Secret Service") as the Mummy, an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet who committed patricide, made a pact to unleash the god of death and was cursed by being buried alive for her troubles.
Flash forward to the present day, with Cruise as Nick Morton, a soldier and, as he puts it, "liberator of precious antiquities" who -- while fortune-seeking in Iraq -- inadvertently awakens Ahmanet, who winds up wreaking havoc in, around and finally under London.
Earmarked as the Mummy's chosen mate, Nick receives help from a specialist in ancient lore named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who is part of a secret organization tasked with thwarting evil. The irony, of course, is that the good doctor has to keep shooting up to repress the beast within him.
    Boutella is a striking presence, but almost everything else about the movie proves clunky, including most of the attempts in the feeble script to establish Nick's roguish charm. Cruise looks inordinately buff, but like everything else here, there's a rote, going-through-the-motions quality to his performance.
    Perhaps foremost, while "The Mummy" does indeed bring to mind a monster, it's actually Frankenstein, as the movie feels pieced together from other parts. Those range from a dead pal offering advice a la "An American Werewolf in London" to an undead creature replenishing itself by sucking up the life forces to the opening's vague swashbuckling echoes of "Gunga Din."
    Director Alex Kurtzman (whose writing credits include the "Star Trek" and "Transformers" franchises) provides a few credible action sequences in the early going, some reminiscent of the "Mummy" movies with Brendan Fraser. It's the final portion, especially, where the movie falls apart and makes little sense, even allowing that this isn't one of those projects meant to be overthought.
    Universal nevertheless has big plans for its Dark Universe, with more editions already in various stages of development. While "The Mummy's" unlikely to derails the franchise even if it underwhelms, it serves as a reminder not to start counting one's monsters before they're animated by lightning.
    The old black-and-white incarnations of Frankenstein and the Werewolf were basically the popcorn movies of their day, which is obviously the intent here. Those movies, however, were a lot more colorful than a soulless exercise like "The Mummy" -- and offered less reason to start shuffling toward the exit.
    "The Mummy" opens in the U.S. on June 9. It's rated PG-13.