By Elias Savada.
The Mummy was a huge, expensive flop last year, and relics of the archaeology digs genre are still up and about (Lara Croft is due back shortly). But if you have a craving for some lame action adventure down under from Down Under, 7 Guardians of the Tomb is ready for your viewing.
For me, this film sucked. Big time. Kelsey Grammer’s cheeky contribution to this silly, monotonous movie is one of those debt reduction efforts that actors use to pay off mortgages – for him or one of his seven children – and alimony expenses. Heck, maybe he just wanted a vacation with some ham on the side. For an icon best remembered for his 20-year portrayal of Frasier Crane, few folks recall his 2015 Golden Raspberry Award for a quartet of underachieving performances. Grammer, according to the publicity materials for this Australian-Chinese co-production, “has excelled at the highest level in theatre, television and film as an actor, producer and director.” What it doesn’t say is that he now has topped out at the lowest end, again.
Recently released as just Guardians of the Tomb in Australia, some executive opted to add a number to the title for its small U.S. window (theaters, VOD, and Digital HD), but if they’re looking for luck at the box office, don’t count on it. And with the word Guardians in the title, sowing any connection to a certain group of Marvel Comics character is very intentional.
Grammer plays American Dr. Mason Kitteridge, a combination of mad scientist and conniving corporate bigwig a co-founder of China Pacific Biotech, a leader in life-extension pharmaceuticals, with John Li. Li and his wife died somewhere in China under unusual circumstances decades ago. I do mean somewhere, because if you read the headlines that flash across the screen about their deaths, or look at the maps shown in the fake newscasts, it could be Shaanxi Province, Eastern China, or Qinling mountain range, in modern day Kyrgyzstan, or even in Western China.
Li’s now grown children are “super brave adventurer” Luke (Wu Chin) and his estranged big sister Jia (Li Bingbing, also one of the six producers), a herpetologist. Luke and his buddy Ethan (Ryan Johnson) work for Kitteridge, venturing into remote areas in search for a centuries-old legend – a fountain of youth elixir. The film glimpses at this ancient past, a lost dynasty whose emperor developed the sought after special life-extending brew. Based on its weird looking bottle, Anheuser Busch might call it Super Silly Dilly Dilly.
When Luke goes missing after apparently discovering the lost tomb, an over anxious Kitteridge embeds Jia with his “team on the field,” an A-Team including archaeologist Chen Xhu (Jason Chong), a persnickety, gray-eyed, red-haired logistics expert Milly Piper (Stef Dawson), the gruff-and-ready rescue specialist and hunk-of-a-guy Jack Ridley (Kellen Lutz, looking like a stunt double for any of the Hemsworth brothers), and Twinky-eating driver Gary (Shane Jacobson), for comic relief.
Let’s intensify the search by having a cheesy CGI category 4 dust storm bearing down on the rescue efforts. The dreadful dialogue kicks in just before the skies darken and spew out fireballs at the group. “It’s amazing, isn’t it. How nature always finds a way to survive.”
When the group descends into a mine, they’ve got some gnarly company. Smart spiders. I mean real smart. Like with an IQ higher than Donald Trump’s. It’s all part of director Kimble Rendall’s insufferable storyline (co-written with Paul Staheli – let’s share the blame). Rendall, a second unit director on numerous bigger budgeted films, has graduated to second-rate director. If he’s going to make films like this or the shark-tsunami horror entry Bait (2012), which was somewhat successful in China, he should send his résumé to the Syfy Channel for the next Sharknado sequel. He’d be a shoe in.
Back to the intrepid team, which does indeed reconnect with the lost sibling, but roadblocks ensue. In trying to find their way out, they are confronted with rivers of molten lava, secret passages, crumbling bridges, spider-contrived booby traps, and pieces to the true myth of the emperor’s underground tomb. How much harm can those pesky arachnids do? Well, how much do you like your human flesh flambéed?
7 Guardians of the Tomb is totally pedestrian action fare. Grammer’s the one looking for another Razzie. He’s got my vote with the loony lines: “Playing God? This is about becoming god!”
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2018 by Centipede Press).