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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: The Mummy (spoilers)

A million ideas… and no Idea.

Universal has gone a long time without a carwreck (and no, I don’t count The Great Wall against their account). So this misfire, which may do some business based on advertising, will not drag the ship down.

But The Mummy is, in so many ways, everything that is wrong with the IP era of film. So much so, that it is a shocking experience.

The film is clear in its intentions to launch a complex reboot of Universal IP, in the shape of no less than The Universal Movie Monster Universe… which gets an entire new logo, Dark Universe (a trivia question by 2025). There is a structure (Prodigium) introduced to act as the fulcrum of the Dark Universe, very much in the way that S.H.I.E.L.D. offers structure for Marvel.

Unfortunately, the monster house is ineptly introduced and then the ineptitude is multiplied by the method offered by the film as Prodigium’s leader, Dr. Jekyll, way of keeping Mr. Hyde at bay. Prodigium is supposed to be the ultimate expert at dealing with violent, powerful, and supernatural beings on earth and yet, the leader, who seems to be subject to personality switching every few hours, can’t come up with a drug delivery system as stable as (for instance) the one that young children us to manage their diabetes in 2017.

I have serious discomfort with how Hyde evolves visually as well. But I will leave that for another day.

Apparently, the overall plan is to roll out Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster in Bride of Frankenstein, then Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man sometime after. I trust Bill Condon to make a solid movie of Bride. But unless the response to The Mummy is much better than I expect, shoving the Prodigium thing into that film will bring nothing but derision. Worse, the fear will be that Johnny Depp will deliver a minor variation on Mortdecai, with invisibility.

But let’s get back to The Mummy. I needed a click counter used at events to count the crowd to keep up with the non-Prodigium mistakes from beginning to end, micro and macro.

To start with, Tom Cruise.

Explaining why he is miscast here requires understanding why the character doesn’t work. On the surface, the story is “rakish thief goes through extreme experience, falls in love, learns to give of himself, becomes the undead and launches a franchise.”

Even that brief version of the story seems a bit much. But worse, the only element that works at all in the film is the “extreme experience.”

Tom Cruise isn’t good at “rakish thief.” He’s not young Harrison Ford. His thing is overly cocky jerk – too sexy to resist even though women know he is trouble – who gets the smirk knocked off his face. Bradley Cooper, who can play cocky with restraint, would have been a lot better as a starting point. There are many other problems with this material, but Cooper would have had a shot. Chris Pine. Ryan Reynolds. Cruise is still good looking and he has spent a lot of time in the gym, but as the guy at the start, now as ever, he lacks a certain warmth.

But then there is the movie. He forces his sidekick into a direct confrontation with dozens of men with machine guns. The duo outruns gunfire in ways beyond the most profound suspension of disbelief. And because this director has no experience with big action sequences, we never – never ever – have a sense of space. Everything is close-ups and singles. So while our “heroes” never stop running, we never know where they are going, where the men with machine guns are, or if any moment is more threatening than another.

After they find the Mummy and he is ordered by his military superior to participate, he – the allegedly clever thief who stays one step ahead of everyone – shoots a rope on what he knows to be a Rube Goldberg-type set-up, with no possible way of knowing what is going to happen. As a movie audience, we know Tom Cruise is not going to have a safe dropped on him. But it is the move of an absolute idiot. Even worse, it is not compelling. Shoulder shrug. And the movie assumes we are idiots by letting him get away with it.

I LOVE crazy action movie sequences. I am thrilled to suspend my disbelief to see something clever and human and delightful. This was not that.

Jump to the best action sequence of the movie… the airplane crash. Mostly well done.

But again… doesn’t make sense. The Mummy’s powers are never defined. She has enough power to summon birds… to suck the life out of men… and to somehow confer life upon Cruise’s character after the plane crash, but on some weird tape delay, where he wakes up in a body bag. How did he get in the body bag?

That is so this movie. He is not a zombie. So why didn’t he just survive the crash? We don’t see his body being recovered…. because if we did, it wouldn’t make any sense.

There are no consistent rules. And audiences will go with virtually any crazy rule you come up with for them. But we need rules (and spacing) so we can anticipate what is coming and then be amazed by how cool what we expected is or to be delighted by being fooled. Hitchcock 101.

There are a hundred twists and turns in this film, but virtually every one feels disconnected from the others.

While they are doing a bad job killing The Mummy (what will actually kill her? how does the process affect her power?), Crowe’s Jekyll passingly mentions that they have to kill Cruise too. It’s played as a joke. It leads up to a fight between Cruise and Hyde that makes absolutely no sense. But worse, between the time Crowe makes the suggestion and the fight, the dialogue might as well be hummina-hummina-hummina because they have to stop making any sense to one another and acting irrationally in order to get to the fight.

Roger Ebert’s old schtick about people being required to do dumb things to make bad horror films work is topped by this movie, which doesn’t even require stupid choices by characters. Major events just keep happening for no apparent reason in the context of the film other than to get to the next “exciting” idea.

And I haven’t even gotten to the horror show that I saw coming the minute I saw an ad for the film with Cruise’s eyes doubling up… it’s the freakin’ Last Samurai all over again.

Throw out all those “empowered women of summer” pieces that include this film. As the story turns, it seems that the forgettable female lead sleeps with Cruise (before the movie begins) to get him to steal her map so he will go find The Mummy. And The Mummy herself is only an elaborate conduit to, inevitably, get Tom Cruise to be The Mummy. Go feminism!

By the way… the issue of the two having sex is another WTF moment that comes up out of seemingly nowhere when it lands. Maybe they cut the sequence of him leaving the room for time or because it didn’t work or something, but you have to tell the story. Truth is, I think the movie thinks she is so unimportant that she didn’t get a full character. A good movie would start with the two seducing each other. Then when they meet again, we, the audience, are vested. Not here.

Back to “Who da Mummy?? He da Mummy!” Once he is The Mummy, what is he as a character? The movie offers no clue, except he can ride a horse and has the power to bring people back to life. Is he a good guy? Will he be the Storm of this team?

I completely understand not committing other characters this early in the UMMU… as Marvel has kept Thanos close to the vest. But who is Cruise’s Mummy? Not giving us a sense of that is inexcusable.

Personally, I hate all the blanket attacks on IP-based films and the assumption of bad will. But then you see The Mummy or Baywatch or the third act of Pirates and you wonder how all those smart, talented people can be so dumb. It’s like they think they audience is a bunch of 4-year-olds who are happy with birthday cake that is all frosting and no cake. (And the frosting flavor is broccoli.)

The Mummy (and Baywatch and Pirates 5) would all be a lot better if they did less with giant effects and more with storytelling. Just look at Wonder Woman, which is overrated but beloved because it just plain works in the most basic ways. I’m all for the lesson of women directing being engaged, but the real story is the simplicity and clarity of the screenplay and filmmaking.

Alex Kurtzman co-wrote the disastrous action films Mission: Impossible III, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (aka The Racist One), and Cowboys and Aliens… all of which could have prepared you for everything that is wrong with The Mummy. What were they meant to be? What is the through-line that gets you through the film? So many cool ideas. Nothing that connects.

Universal made a terrible choice here. Inexperienced director who hasn’t been a writer on a well-liked hit since the Star Trek reboot in 2009. Great TV writer. I really like People Like Us, which is a scale of production that works for him. Tom Cruise was all wrong and can not be anything other than TOM CRUISE. I actually liked Annabelle Wallis in The Brothers Grimsby… thought she was game and funny. Blonde sock puppet here.

And did I mention that Russell Crowe has to do a physical comedy routine more reminiscent of Monty Python than a thriller in order to stay Jekyll?

I want movies like this to be a pleasant surprise. I would settle for “as expected.” It is crushing to keep running into “what were they thinking?” And I don’t recall a run of that quite like this ever before in my 20 years of covering this professionally.

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43 Responses to “Review: The Mummy (spoilers)”

  1. Cg says:

    Do they not remember that they made a fun Mummy movie not quite 20 years ago that people liked and had a bunch of spinoffs and sequels?

  2. TWSiebert says:

    Good, informative review that doesn’t give too much away–though it doesn’t really matter anymore because I no longer plan to see this until it streams anyway and by then I’ll forget the particulars.

    Too bad. Cruise usually reliable for escapist entertainment in the past half-dozen or so years since his comeback really kicked into gear, and the trailer didn’t look terrible.

  3. LYT says:

    Of course they remember. That’s why they’re trying to do it all over again.

  4. theschu says:

    I love MI-3!

    Do you have a link to your review?

  5. Ryan says:

    Also curious about what you have against MI3? It has been awhile, but MI:II struck me as the worst of them. Hoffman was certainly a step up from Dougray Scott.

  6. Pete B says:

    And to think Dougray Scott gave up the chance to be Wolverine due to MI:2.

    Hugh Jackman is forever thankful.

  7. Js partisan says:

    Mission Impossible 3, is hokey as fucking hell. 2, has that ridiculous soundtrack. 3? Just has Phillip Seymour Hoffman being a weirdo creep.

    That’s aside… OVERRATED MY ASS! SHAME!

    Seriously though, Universal just fucked this shit up right up. Why? Why did they turn Tom Cruise into a god damn Mummy? What the fuck.

  8. EtGuild2 says:

    Just be thankful Cruise as IRON MAN never came to fruition. Hopefully this experience will be a lesson for him not to get hooked on established IP. He’s Tom Cruise, not Chris Evans or Chris Pratt. M:I works because Ethan Hunt isn’t a character built on rakish wit, humor or sexy suaveness. As DP says, Cruise only works at this scale as a dick you want to see get knocked down a peg.

  9. Amblinman says:

    I was mildly curious as to where this Dark Universe was going to go. Is the point that some greater evil will require all these monsters to work together or something? Like, what’s their “Avengers” movie?

  10. Eric says:

    So this Dark Universe thing is just The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stretched out to eight or ten movies?

  11. hcat says:

    After all the origin movies they all combine to open a hotel.

    Or more likely they have a House of Frankenstein type film planned where they all butt heads seeking a cure for their ailments in a giant monster freefall

    Whoever Wins
    We’re Indifferent

  12. Sideshow Bill says:

    “After all the origin movies they all combine to open a hotel.”


  13. hcat says:

    So it looks like this will have an Alien Covenant trajectory. It will be strange if all the films I am interested in this summer perform uniformly. But that means good news for Atomic Blonde since it will open at 35 on the way to 75!!!!

  14. Dr Wally Rises says:

    Saying this always reeks of ‘get off my lawn’, but these movies we’re being served up now….. shudder. Just fifteen years ago Spider-Man, Insomnia, Attack of the Clones (oh come on, it has its moments), Road to Perdition, The Bourne Identity, and Minority Report were our major Summer movies. Compare then to now and weep. Logan could honestly be a Best Picture contender at this point.

  15. CG says:

    LYT: Let me rephrase, then: If they remember the fun one people liked, why didn’t they make one anything at all like that? Not necessarily a remake or a sequel, but something that would remind people they’ve liked Mummy movies in recentish memory?

  16. MarkVH says:

    Mission Impossible 2 is better than MI3. MI2 is a dumb, fun, ridiculous diversion made by a guy who knows how to direct movies (also Thandie Newton and Tony Hopkins). MI3 is a half-assed episode of Alias.

  17. hcat says:

    MI3 is fine though the weakest one of the franchise, they sort of derailed it with the marriage thing. After having two entries where he was kept off center by the love interest, having him engaged and retiring seems like a detour, though they brought it back in line quite nicely.

    Its funny about 2 though, it was very much a product of its time and feels the most dated because of all of Woo’s excess.

    Was watching Casino Royal the other night, how has Cruise not hooked up with Campbell for a film? The man who loves to run should be filmed by the man who loves to film running.

  18. Js partisan says:

    Welcome back, all of those, that have not posted in a while.

    Wally, that is indeed glaring. Again, they need to realize, that Marvel is Marvel, Star Wars is Star Wars, and that you just can’t force this shit to happen. They tried to force YA novel movies to happen, after Harry Potter. They tried again with female YA novel movies after Twilight, and The Hunger Games was a rare win. Now, they all want their own universes, and seemingly ignore how they would be better off building new ip. Their fear has to end, and here’s hoping the next decade, features some new shit to get excited about.

  19. EtGuild2 says:

    Maybe it isn’t fair, but the fact Hoffman makes for MI’s best villain, and that I-II are among Woo and DePalma’s very worst movies elevates chapter 3 for me.

  20. Ryan says:

    Maybe too much of the cocky jerk plus too much style over substance made MI2 stand out as the worst in the series for me. Plus, I have soft spots for Monaghan and Hoffman and Rhames has a bigger part.

  21. Michelle W. says:

    They made the same mistake DC did- seeing what marvel has accomplished then announcing a “Universe” before the first movie even hit the theaters, and not with making a good movie in mind but establishing a franchise for that ever-loved ca$h. Here’s a tip: make a good movie… AND THEN worry about a franchise. Another tip for the screenwriters: read “PUNCHING BABIES: a how-to guide” easily available on Amazon for just $6 friggin dollars so you can pen a better screenplay next time 0_O

  22. Movieman says:

    Wally- How about the summer of ’82? From this vantage point, it’s beginning to look like the greatest movie summer of the modern era.
    “E.T.;” “Poltergeist;” “Blade Runner;” “The Road Warrior;” “The Thing;” “An Officer and a Gentleman;” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High;” “The World According to Garp.”
    And you can even toss in “Rocky III;” “Tempest;” “A Midsummer Night’s Sex
    “Comedy;” “Conan the Barbarian” (still the only good Conan movie); “Author! Author!” (Pacino, Tuesday Weld, Dyan Cannon, Bob & Ray) and even “Grease II” (which I still prefer to the ’78 original thanks to the ineffable Michelle Pfeiffer).
    Those were just the wide-release studio goodies.

  23. leahnz says:

    “and even “Grease II” (which I still prefer to the ’78 original thanks to the ineffable Michelle Pfeiffer)”

    i was with you to till this right here haha – i like me some pfieffer lord knows but yikes

  24. hcat says:

    Grease 2 is the best bad movie there is, very re watchable.

    The other terrible musical I loved when I was young was The Pirate Movie, caught a bit of that somewhere recently and realized I was stupid as a kid.

    Hell, go back 50 years and you’ve got Barefoot in the Park as the big memorial day release, You Only Live Twice, Dirty Dozen, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, Flim Flam Man and Point Frickin’ Blank.

  25. Sideshow Bill says:

    1982, 1984 and 1986 are the best movie Summers of my youth. 1984 had the triple threat of Temple of Doom, Gremlins and Ghostbusters, as well as Buckaroo Banzai, Star Trek 3, Cloak & Dagger (YES!!! LOVED THAT SHIT!!),Karate Kid, Purple Rain, Revenge of the Nerds (Darth Vader rape notwithstanding) and Red Dawn. 1986 had Aliens (and that’s all it really needed when you think on it) as well as Big Trouble In Little China, Ferris Bueller, Back To School, Labyrinth and The Fly. I’d give 1984 the nod by a bit.

  26. Mostly Lurking says:

    IIRC, 1986 also had Top Gun.

  27. Sideshow Bill says:

    Good catch. I forgot Top Gun. Not a big fan but it was a huge film. And 1986 also had Stand By Me.

  28. hcat says:

    I would go with 88. Big, Married to the Mob, Bull Durham, Coming to America (remember when comedies were big box office?), Red Heat. The underrated Funny Farm and Monkeyshines and in one of the purest bursts of big studio genius A Fish Called Wanda, Die Hard and Midnight Run all hit within two weeks of each other. A perfect comedy, perfect action movie and the perfect combination of the two, we wont see a hat trick like that again.

  29. Sideshow Bill says:

    Holy shit, I was just thinking about Funny Farm recently. I think David or somebody Tweeted about George Roy Hill and that’s always the first movie I think of for some reason. It’s so underrated. ’88 was a great year for sure. What a year for comedy. All of those are rewatchable ad infinitum. One of the first movies my late wife and I bonded over was Bull Durham.

  30. hcat says:

    Love George Roy Hill, am a little pissed at Netflix lately in that they seem to have let their deep catalogue fall into ruin, so no World of Henry Orient or Hawaii for me. Hoping they somehow come into the streaming rotation and there the older film selection seems to be getting thinner.

  31. Bulldog68 says:

    When Tom Cruise makes you yearn for Brendan Fraser, you know you fucked up.

    Maybe they should have gone all Interview with a Vampire in tone on this one. Cruise finally returns to the horror genre and apparently they give us MI6 Meets The Mummy.

  32. Js partisan says:

    I fucking love Funny Farm. It’s really, one of my favorite comedies.

    Hcat, Netflix is about their own shit now. I do wonder, if they get a catalogue back in the future, to boost their movie offerings? It seems like it’s possible, because they are becoming invaluable to pushing the product.

  33. hcat says:

    “Cue the Deer”

    I need a new service, 40s 50s 60s, not even everything but Fox MGM Paramount and United Artists. I would toss a tenner a month at any one of those studios to stream their back stuff, they could even keep their top 50 or so grossers off the list so as not to cannablize sales and just give me the b side ditties

  34. Sideshow Bill says:

    I remember Siskel & Ebert being shocked at how much they loved Funny Farm. I think Gene even had it in his top 10. I’m such a dork for remembering that. I’m going to have buy a copy of the DVD from eBay because I want to watch it now.

    I’m surprised more studios haven’t jumped into the game like hcat suggests. I too would pay to get streaming access to specific studios back catalogs. I’d be even more interested in seeing things like Vestron or Empire with their own streaming sites (unless they do an I don’t know). I don’t know what rights issues might tie that up but it’s worth a dream. I know plenty of people who would love even a Cannon/Golan-Globus streaming site. All that great junk. The Cannon doc, Electric Boogaloo, was fun. I haven’t seen the other one yet, The Go-Go Boys.

    Those were fun days. I was so young and would watch anything.

  35. Joe Straatmann says:

    The thing with Mission: Impossible 3 is its first 20 minutes are the least Mission: Impossible thing ever. They need the flash-forward to Philip Seymour Hoffman or else the opening would be a post-wedding celebration in suburbia where Ethan Hunt has a bunch of beers with bro-dudes and only establishes his wife as “the woman” and her job only establishes why she knows to do things later. Oh yeah, and they establish he can lipread in a method stolen from Operation Double 007. Who rips off a Neil Connery movie? Honestly….

    Say what you want about 2 because you absolutely can and it’s one of those movies that set up the “make the set pieces first, pin down the story later” plan that has plagued Hollywood tentpoles a whole bunch lately, but it at least sets up the relationship with Ethan and Nyah and doesn’t just start with them having sex and saying, “Hey, could you go back to your boyfriend and do all this uncomfortable stuff?”It never establishes or gives a feeling of why Ethan got together with his wife or any sort of chemistry whatsoever. The fourth one got the right idea by leaving her as an idea rather than the elephant in the room.

    Then we get the Mr. Phelps scene at the convenience store or a one-hour photo or whatever giving a mission rundown by a pipsqueak without a hint of irony. It’s all second rate and that’s what the movie feels like. Second-rate rehashes of better things right down to the True Lies ripoff on the bridge.

    I knew The Mummy would be bad news from when I first saw footage from it. The color palette would be fine if it was going for straight horror, but it was going for horror/action. Maybe if they were going for adventure… nope. No adventure. The more I saw, the more I didn’t want to see. The Mummy being unleashed because terrorism (I know I want ISIS featured right off the top of my escapist Summer movie). It REALLY trying to force the four pupils thing to be a defining visual aspect. Am I supposed to be impressed by that? Intrigued? It seemed like a movie that was made for nobody created to latch onto the success of other more popular things and will make money because… well, those other things made money, didn’t they?

    I get the feeling someone’s going to take a huge financial bath on this. More than even the reserved guesses are. Then again, I suck at the financial side of this, so I could be wrong.

  36. hcat says:

    When we perused the local mom and pop rental store as a teen the New World logo on the side of the box was endorsement enough. Beyond Therapy was a bit of a Head Scratcher though.

  37. Ryan says:

    We can agree about the problems with story in MI3 Joe. I was just surprised to see it as an example of a ‘disastrous action film’. Doesn’t seem that bad compared to any other standard studio action fair-even the subsequent MI movies.

  38. YancySkancy says:

    I’m another in the pro-M:I III camp. It’s preposterous, sure, but I guess that’s why they’re the Impossible Mission Force, not Improbable. Lots of thrilling set pieces, a supremely hissable villain in Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a typically intense and committed performance by Tom Cruise. Way better than II.

    hcat: I believe The World of Henry Orient is on FilmStruck at the moment.

  39. Hcat says:

    Thanks for the tip on world.

    If we are talking truly awful spy thrillers look no farther than Eraser that landed within a month of the first MI. Just the laziest thing I have ever seen. The FBI is monitoring the female leads house for a potential threat but let’s some random guy enter the place and take a shower, the bad guys are expecting a breach attempt but don’t rind anything out of the the ordinary when the guy delivering the pizza no one ordered has a sudden seizure and the whole plot is keeping this monsterous gun prototype out of the wrong hands, but it doesn’t matter because even with the weapon the bad guys couldn’t hit anything. Really the turning point announcing the end of Arnold’s time on top

  40. Hcat says:

    A little bit of trivia about Funny Farm, it was based on a book by Jay Crawley who must have had a decent agent because he had adaptations of Let it Ride, Funny Farm, Major League and Quick Change in rapid succession.

  41. Pete B says:

    All this positive talk for MI:3, and no one mentions Maggie Q?

    Her stepping out of the sports car is breathtaking.

  42. Joe Straatmann says:

    Ryan, I was really hard on it back in the day because I was very anti-Abrams at the time. I still find Abrams to be a Salieri and the best stuff that comes from him generally lands when he’s in the producing role and leaving it to talented people with whom he does have good taste in finding (M:I 4 is a great villain away from being one of the best action movies ever). Then, I was really mad at being hard-sold a guy who everything he touched was gold and I came away from most of them severely underwhelmed. But even then, if I saw it as the worst movie of that year (Which I don’t really remember if I did), it was because I didn’t see a whole lot of bad movies that year. There were things that just tweaked my pet peeves more than usual, I guess.

  43. Hcat says:

    Plus at the time of MI3s release the film had a lot of tabloid baggage associated with it and certainly had to influence reactions a bit, even that if underperformed at the box office probably tempered reactions as well. A little distance and it looks quite a bit better

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