Critics were split on whether The Mummy was the worst film of Tom Cruise’s career. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it’s one of the two worst reviewed Cruise films, with a pitiful 16 percent approval rating. The only previous Cruise effort with a crappier RT score is Cocktail, which has a lowly 5 percent (although it’s worth noting Rotten Tomatoes did not exist when that film was released, and its sampling of reviews that are available online in 2017 may not be complete or entirely accurate representation of all the reviews it got in 1988.)

But this is quibbling over fine points; The Mummy is a dud, and while it’s doing well overseas, its $31.6 million opening weekend in the U.S. is not a great sign for the future of Universal’s Dark Universe of monster movies, which Cruise’s horror adventure was supposed to launch.

With the film now struggling in domestic theaters, the finger-pointing has begun. Today Variety published an article laying much of the blame at the feet of Cruise, who its sources claim had an “excessive amount of control” over the film. Working with a director, Alex Kurtzman, with no experience helming a movie of a reported budget of nearly $200 million, Variety says it “felt more like Cruise was the real director, often dictating the major action sequences and micro-managing the production.”

Cruise has been a producer on most of his projects for many years, and his perfectionism, work ethic, and attention to detail are legendary (and, according to his fans, a major selling point, because that effort often translates into the finished product onscreen). The picture Variety paints in this case is an incompatible mixture of star and subject, where the needs of its leading man ran counter to the demands of a horror franchise. The report pays specific attention to the work Cruise and his writers did to the film’s screenplay:

The actor personally commissioned two other writers along with [Christopher] McQuarrie to crank out a new script ... His writers beefed up his part. In the original script, Morton and the Mummy (played by Sofia Boutella) had nearly equal screen time. The writers also added a twist that saw Cruise’s character become possessed, to give him more of a dramatic arc.

I like Tom Cruise, and I tend to enjoy his movies. (I gave a positive review to Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, which had a Rotten Tomatoes score in the high 30s.) But this pinpoints one of the major problems with The Mummy — it’s barely about the Mummy. After a lengthy prologue, Sofia Boutella’s character is gone for a long stretch of the film, and even after she starts popping up again she takes a backseat to Cruise (plus all the universe-building shenanigans featuring Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll). The scant details we get about Boutella’s vengeful undead princess suggests she could have been a very interesting villain. But if she had rich, complex motivations on the page, they got cut somewhere along the way.

The stuff in this Variety piece are simply the claims of a couple of anonymous sources; the article includes a statement from Universal calling Cruise “a true partner and creative collaborator” and praising his “commitment and dedication” to the movie. But Cruise’s commitment and dedication isn’t the issue; not generally, and not even in this article. (If anything, the piece suggests the opposite.) From my perspective, it seems as if this material about cursed men and women was doomed almost from the start by an actor who was a poor fit for the concept.

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