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‘The Pyramid’ Review: It’s a Little ‘Indiana Jones’ and a Little ‘Mummy’ — But Mostly Dopey

Three or four decent scares can’t justify the crushing monotony of this horror flick about archaeologists who go barking up the wrong sarcophagus

Usually, one must wait until January to see a movie as forgettable and indifferent as “The Pyramid,” but Fox has apparently decided to get the jump on the post-holiday slump, ditching this by-the-numbers horror exercise into fewer than 600 theaters while audiences are distracted by Christmas shopping and Katniss Everdeen’s bow and arrow.

Apart from about three or four decent scares, director Grégory Levasseur (the first-time filmmaker wrote “High Tension” and the remakes of “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Maniac” for “Pyramid” producer Alexandre Aja) mostly spins his wheels when he’s not outright stealing shots from “Alien,” various Indiana Jones movies, and other superior thrillers.

The paucity of new ideas is evident from the opening crawl, when we’re informed that a documentary film crew — here come the POV shots! — has been dispatched to Egypt where father-daughter archaeologists Holden (Denis O’Hare, “American Horror Story,” “C.O.G.”) and Nora (Ashley Hinshaw, “Chronicle”) have discovered a three-sided pyramid buried deep within the sands.

Using satellite technology, Nora has found a tunnel into the pyramid, but opening the cave unleashes a cloud of toxic gas that injures a worker. (Holden explains that the air in sealed-up tombs can often be full of fungi, but if he knew that, why didn’t he put gas masks on the pickaxe crew?) Because of (never-explained) riots in the streets of Cairo, the Egyptian government demands that the dig team leave the following morning, but they’re so close to a major find that they can’t resist peeking.

The-Pyramid-2014-Movie-PosterSidekick Zahir (Amir K, “Argo”) sends in a camera-equipped rover robot — the same one he sent into girlfriend Nora’s tent to spy on her in her scanties — but it makes its way through just a few tunnels before being attacked by what Zahir thinks is a dog. He goes in to recover his expensive equipment, and Holden and Nora insist on accompanying him, prompting documentary narrator Sunni (Christa Nicola) and cameraman Fitzie (James Buckley, “The Inbetweeners”) to follow along because, well, otherwise there’s no movie.

Surprise, surprise, they discover that the pyramid has been designed to entrap an evil force, and these bumblers have released it, and then “Aah!” and crash and fall and they start getting picked off one by one, “And Then There Were None”-style. Premise-wise, this scenario (from screenwriters Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon) could produce some excitement, but apart from the occasional thrill, Levasseur fails to build tension or make us care about who lives or who dies.

The characters are so thinly devised that not even the talented O’Hare can draw much out of what he’s given. Nicola finds the humor in her character’s ability to pivot into chirpy-TV-presenter mode at a moment’s notice, but that’s about the only spark of humanity to be found here. (Even this actress can’t make the line, “Stop being an archaeologist for a minute, and start being a human being!” into anything that won’t prompt giggles from bored viewers.)

Hinshaw, through no fault of her own, gets stuck with a character so flimsy she might as well be called Hot Pants Egyptologist, as though she’d learned all the wrong things from Lara Croft. You’d think, of this crew, she’d be fairly familiar with catacombs and tunnels, but she spends much of the film being led around by the male characters, even Fitzie.

The ultimate moral of “The Pyramid,” and of almost every other film where an underground mummy or scarab or tomb wreaks havoc, is that some things were never meant to be uncovered. Some movies, too.