"The Scorpion King" (IMDb listing) is the smaller, mentally handicapped little brother of "Conan The Barbarian." It's a cheap sword and sorcery rip-off that cashes in on the success of "The Mummy Returns," and it pretty much defies criticism.
But let's give it the old college try, for fun.
Mathayus (The Rock) is a tribal mercenary who has crossed the ancient lands looking to exact revenge on his sworn enemy, the king Memnon (Steven Brand). When Mathayus misses an opportunity to kill the king, he instead finds himself with the king's soothsayer, the bewitching Cassandra (Kelly Hu, "Martial Law"). Cassandra is willing to betray her captor, and soon falls in love with Mathayus as he joins up with a fellow clan of warriors (lead by Michael Clarke Duncan, "The Green Mile") for another chance at revenge.
Now to be honest, there seemed to be a lot more plot somewhere in the mix, but "The Scorpion King" is a blaring, sweaty affair that practically goes without dialog for the last 20 minutes, so I think I lost my concentration on who was who and where was where. But the facts are simple: "The Mummy Returns" cleared over &400 million in worldwide box office and the producers have manufactured this "spin-off" to capture the target audience's "imagination," and buy themselves really cool looking Italian sports cars in the process.
I couldn't find a speck of love for filmmaking in "Scorpion King." It's loud, violent (like "Lord Of The Rings," this fantasy dangerously pushes the PG-13 rating to the limit) and geared at the masses who know what The Rock's real name is. I can't blame the filmmakers for cashing in, but their choice for a vehicle is frightening. "King" is teaming with moronic dialog, bad acting and self-referential winks to the audience. Believe me, if you don't understand why Mathayus raising one eyebrow is hysterical, then this film is not for you. Nevertheless, director Chuck Russell (fresh off one of the most hideous films of 2000, the occult thriller "Bless The Child") seems pretty pleased with himself with this effort, as if this orgy of nonsense is something that will stand the test of time. "Scorpion King" should be a wild ride, crammed with action, romance and glorious settings. But the set pieces are a handful of leftovers (stealing from the "Conan" films, "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom," and, of all things, the magnificent 1980 hot pants/space epic "Flash Gordon"), the chemistry between The Rock and Hu is paint-by-numbers, and the locations appear to be from the Moroccan pavilion at EPCOT. It's hardly a memorable affair.
One of the few right decisions that was made (either by aesthetic choice, or because little money was spent on this knock-off) is the lack of CG in the film. Not that most shots aren't kissed by the mouse and keyboard, but that work is mostly put into backgrounds and animals, not entire sequences as in the disturbingly busy "Mummy" pictures. Save for one hilarious looking scene involving Mathayus fending off a pack of fire ants, the film only takes out the CG to goose, never lead, the scenes. Without the computer mayhem, "Scorpion King" is left to its own devices, which means heaps of sword-fighting and chest-heaving. I'll take that any day over Rick O'Connell and that silly looking Imhotep.
By making the leap between 3 minutes of screen time in "Mummy Returns" to carrying a 90-minute feature, The Rock acquits himself nicely to the leading role. Not much is required of him besides a good body and clear enunciation, but since we haven't even gotten that from Seagal, Schwarzenegger or Van Damme over the years, The Rock is welcome company. He will overcome this film with ease, as it seems after "Mummy Returns" that he was forced to star in this. But if this is the birth to a more complex action hero, then I welcome the wrestler to the world of poorly-conceived action films. Also of note is Kelly Hu, who manages to overcome her ladybug's teardrop sized outfits and is believable enough spitting out witch gobbledygook that I doubt even the screenwriters scrutinized. In this film, the simple act of not breaking out into laughter can be considered a good performance, but Rock and Hu, whatever chemistry they lack between them, do just fine on their own.
It's review proof, but that doesn't make it quality. You know already if "The Scorpion King" is the right movie for you. But for those who can't make up their minds? Just wait another year or two, as a third "Conan" movie is in the works. That's when you'll see sword and sorcery done right. "The Scorpion King?" Merely kitten's play.
Filmfodder Grade: D