NOW PLAYING: The Scorpion King

Posted: Monday, April 22, 2002

After seeing The Mummy a few years ago, it certainly came as no surprise when the sequal arrived. Big summer action flicks are the whole reason sequels exist. People want more, and are usually willing to sacrifice plot, characterization, acting, whatever, to get it. Those things aren't generally the reason moviegoers came back anyway. You don't see anyone clamoring for a sequel to One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest, but Mission Impossible III is already in the works. So, The Mummy Returns came out, and it was pretty good, and people still want more. Enter The Scorpion King, starring WWF star The Rock. It's not exactly a sequel as much as a spin-off, a technique virtually unknown outside of the small screen.

To be honest, I was a little surprised to hear they were making this movie. After all, though the Scorpion King was a pivotal character in The Mummy Returns, he had no actual lines and only a minute or two of screen-time. Plus, he's a pretty bad guy. He even shows up at the end of the movie as a really dumb looking scorpion man who trys to sting Brendan Frasier to death with his giant scorpion tail. But, marketing is everything and The Rock is really hot right now, so I guess it makes some kind of sense.

The story begins "long before the time of the pyramids," whenever that's supposed to be; thousands of years ago, anyway. The Rock is Methias, one of the last of a dying tribe of assassins called Akadians. While he and his two companions travel around looking for mercenary work, an evil warrior named Memnon has gathered his armies and is forcing all the surrounding clans into submission. He is able to do this, legend reputes, with the help of a beautiful sorceress. The clans hire the Akadians to take her out, but don't count on being betrayed. Memnon is ready for their attack and Methias ends up prisoner. From there it's typical swashbuckling adventure and doesn't vary much from what you'd expect.

The Scorpion King does nothing to distinguish itself from any other bronze-age sword-fest, ala The Beastmaster I-III, The Sword and the Sorcerer, or the creme de la creme, Conan the Barbarian. Of course the socreress runs around nearly naked the entire movie, and of course she falls in love with Methias. Of course our hero has a goofy, fast talking sidekick who is the ancient world's version of a con artist, and of course there are more violent deaths than in ten Silence of the Lambs. Also, as you might expect, the acting and writing are pretty crummy. You probably saw in the preview Michael Clark Duncan (slumming here as a Nubian king) growling at The Rock, "Will you stand alone before the fury of his armies?" And Methias, taking just a moment to think before he answers, "Yes!" This kind of sparkling dialogue is all through the film. Actually, this movie has much more in common with Zena: Warrior Princess than it does with The Mummy. The characters speak in either overblown declarations or in anachronistic wisecracks.

Aside from those inherent flaws (more flaws in the entire genre than just this film), the movie isn't just awful. There are some good battles, and The Rock has a fairly winning persona. He needs to get a good agent and do some more movies. I think he'd be able to do lots of different kinds of roles. He's not a bad actor, and he's got a lot of charisma going for him. If he can keep from trading in on his wrestling success his whole career, I think he'll do well. The sorceress does a passable job as well; she is certainly beautiful, which is, I guess, her main job. There are few things about the movie, however, that still make no sense. For one, there seems to be almost no relationship between this Scorpion King, and the evil despot from Mummy Returns. Obviously, there are bad things to come if there are to be sequels to this sequel/prequel/spin-off. The kingdom our hero eventually rules over is Gomorrah, for God's sake. Also, as far as timeline goes, this movie must not only take place pre-pyramids, but before the whole Tower of Babel debacle as well. There are Jewish people, German people, Italians, Brits, Arabs, and few that sounded like they were from New Jersey.

I suppose those complaints are relatively minor considering the target audience of this film is probably from 13-17 year old boys who couldn't care less about continuity or logic. All they want is to see their favorite wrestling star and a half-naked chick swordfight their way through a good ninety minutes, and everything else is just excess baggage. So, while the kids will probably think this movie rocks, The Scorpion King left me feeling slightly stung. Grade: C

The Scorpion King is rated PG-13 for violence and revealing costumes.

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