7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB
Director: Kimble Rendall
Cast: Bingbing Li, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Shane Jacobson, Jason Chong, Stef Dawson, Chun Wu, Eva Liu
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 2/23/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 22, 2018
When a title refers to something, you expect there to be some obvious connection to what's actually in the movie. It's unclear whom or what the specific seven guardians of 7 Guardians of the Tomb are, although I think it refers to the story's collection of heroes, who number more than seven in the big picture, find their numbers increased and dwindled by the time they arrive at the tomb, and aren't exactly guarding a single thing in said tomb in the first place.
It's definitely not the creatures that are guarding the tomb, since they far outnumber a single digit. We're talking hundreds, maybe thousands, of venomous arachnids, which have been breeding in the dark, dusty underground lair of a reclusive emperor for two millennia. It's possible the guardians are the various booby traps that our heroes encounter on their expedition through the cavernous maze, but if we're being perfectly honest, I wasn't keeping count of them after a while. Another possibility is a series of statues of actual armored guards, but if those statues are the guardians, they certainly aren't effective—being statues and all.
This seems like a minor sticking point, but it's one of those things that helps to keep a mind occupied while watching something like co-writer/director Kimble Rendall's generic adventure story. In it, a team of somewhat diverse but almost completely expendable heroes make their way through the dangerous labyrinth of a 2,000-year-old palace/tomb beneath the Gobi Desert. A duo of explorers had traveled there a few days prior, and they were attacked by something. Now, this team is trying to find them—or their bodies, if things went really badly for the two.
The central team member is Jia (Bingbing Li), whose brother Luke (Chun Wu) was one of the ill-fated explorers on the first expedition. Luke was working for Mason (Kelsey Grammer), the current head of a major pharmaceutical company that was once owned and run by Jia and Luke's parents, who died in a plane crash. Jia and Luke aren't on good terms now, for reasons that the movie never really explains, but if we can't determine the identity of the eponymous guardians of the tomb, it should come as little surprise that Rendall and Paul Staheli's screenplay isn't particularly concerned with the relationships or more-than-surface-level characteristics of its characters.
Here's what we do know about them. Jia wants to find Luke. Mason does, too, but he clearly has an ulterior motive for going to the desert, wanting to find Luke (His poor partner isn't even an afterthought in the search-and-rescue operation), and bringing along some vials of anti-venom. Also along for the mission are search-and-rescue specialist Jack Ridley (Kellan Lutz), tech expert Milly (Stef Dawson), the driver Gary (Shane Jacobson), and Chen (Jason Chong), the guy who gets bitten by a spider first.
We can gauge how long each character will last against the booby traps and spiders by the usefulness in the story. Jia has to find out what happened to brother, and Mason has those secret motives to reveal. Jack has a tragic back story to relate at some point, so we can guess he'll stick around at least until that's revealed (Like so much of the exposition here, it's ultimately told through an unnecessary and momentum-killing flashback). Gary has the poorly timed and clunky jokes to tell in the midst of danger, so he'll be along until things become too perilous for jokes. Before entering the underground space, the team finds a young girl named Yin (Eva Liu), the sole survivor of a spider attack, and it's pretty clear she'll make it. As for everyone else (or these characters when their utility runs out), well, it was nice not to get to know them.
After an explosion-filled first act (Gas is coming up through the ground, and a lightning-filled sandstorm begins the fiery chaos), the story has the team making their way through the former palace/current tomb. The little, computer-generated spiders keep following and trying to attack them (hissing and screeching, too, led by a bigger spider that's about the size of a puppy). Every so often, the team encounters some treacherous obstacle—such as a weak stone bridge over a pool of lava, a couple of dead ends (with secret exits that they have to find), or a tunnel with a stone ceiling that gradually lowers toward the ground.
7 Guardians of the Tomb is repetitive and monotonous, displaying little wit or self-awareness or genuine stakes. It doesn't possess a single character who elicits anything approaching sympathy, although they all garner some groans for bad decisions, awkward dialogue, or, in Gary's case, bad jokes.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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