Scorpion King, The (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Watching The Scorpion King, the question that came to mind was whether Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson could become a Schwarzenegger for the '00s. Having asked that, however, it's worth considering whether Schwarzenegger in his prime could have had the same kind of career had he started today. The '80s were a different decade, and the kind of muscle-bound, hulking hero that Arnold represented might no longer have a place in cinematic circles. WWF mega-star The Rock resembles a younger Schwarzenegger in many ways: he has the same kind of physique, the same complete lack of acting ability, the same screen presence, and the same general appeal. Only the accent is missing. And, much as Arnold made his feature film splash in Conan the Barbarian, The Rock is using this low-rent Conan as his first starring vehicle.

The Scorpion King is based on a character introduced in The Mummy Returns. However, anyone expecting a film with the same kind of tongue-in-cheek, Indiana Jones-ish style will be disappointed. Aside from the presence of Mathayus, the "Scorpion King", and the fact that some of the action takes place in the desert, there are no connections between this film and either of the Mummy outings. As I stated above, this is more in the vein of a Conan or a Thirteenth Warrior than its immediate cinematic cousins.

The story is about as lifeless and predictable as one might expect. Mathayus is a mercenary assassin from a "clan of cutthroats that kill for money". He is hired by an outcast ruler to stop the mighty Memnon (Steven Brand), the warrior king whose armies are systematically destroying their opposition. The reason for Memnon's seeming invincibility lies in the clairvoyant powers of his sorceress sidekick, Cassandra (Kelly Hu). Mathayus is supposed to kill her, but, when he is unable to, he opts for kidnapping her instead. It turns out that, because she dislikes Memnon, she becomes a willing victim. Soon, Mathayus and Cassandra are involved and on the run. With the help of the great warrior Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan) and an inept thief (Grant Heslov), Mathayus decides to infiltrate Memnon's fortress and challenge the great swordsman to one-on-one combat.

A little more originality or energy wouldn't have hurt The Scorpion King. It's fine to see The Rock body-slam a few foes and to catch a fleeting glimpse of the delightful Kelly Hu's naked flesh (she has a couple of nice peek-a-boo scenes), but those are hardly reasons enough to sit through any movie. The sword fights are perfunctory and obligatory, the villain doesn't snarl or foam at the mouth enough, and the "comic" sidekicks are so clich├ęd that they provoke more yawns than laughs. Even the special effects aren't all that special. Three in particular - a fire ant attack, a group of angry cobras, and a sandstorm - are so obviously computer-generated that they come across as cheap and artificial.

The "creative" forces (and I use that word loosely) behind The Scorpion King are director Chuck Russell and co-screenwriter Stephen Sommers. Sommers, the writer and director of the two Mummy movies, is given some credit for both the story and screenplay. Russell, who is no stranger to having worked with bulky actors (he directed Schwarzenegger in his last profitable outing, Eraser), does a workmanlike job. Of course, he is hamstrung by a limp script and a group of actors whose primary previous exposure has been on television or on the wrestling mat.

It is possible to make an engaging action/adventure picture of this sort, but The Scorpion King isn't it. The movie isn't godawful, but it's far from inspired, and, as I sat through its 90 minute running length, I found my mind wandering. I'm sure that wrestling fans will enjoy the spectacle of seeing their hero on the big screen for an extended period of time, but the plainness of The Scorpion King will leave most average viewers unimpressed. Big men with big muscles aren't what they used to be.

Scorpion King, The (United States, 2002)

Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 2002-04-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1