The Scorpion King (2002) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Steven Brand, Kelly Hu, Michael Clarke Duncan, Grant Heslov
Director: Chuck Russell
Screenplay: Stephen Sommers, William Osbourne, David Hayter
Review published April 21, 2002
Yeah, it seems a bit premature when you hear Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (The Rundown, Be Cool) is the Schwarzenegger for a new generation, but if you look at the kinds of films Arnie did in his beginnings, Dwayne seems right on track. The Mummy Returns is not great, but a hell of a lot better than Hercules in New York, and both started out with sword-and-sorcery films, with Conan the Barbarian for Arnold and The Scorpion King for Dwayne. However, what the future holds for the Rock will certainly depend on wise choices, and while we can overlook the fact that The Scorpion King is a bad film in his favor, a career of these will make Johnson seem more like the Brian Bosworth for the new millennium.
Johnson stars as Mathayus, an assassin who is hired as a last resort by some local tribes who have been suffering from run-ins with Memnon (Brand), the evil warlord that wants to rule the land. Memnon has been using a sorceress (Hu, Cradle 2 the Grave) with powers to predict the future of his battles, and while Mathayus tries to stop Memnon, he steals away his most precious of possessions -- the seer herself.
You can already figure that the film isn't going to be very good just by looking at the cast. Dwayne Johnson is making his starring debut, Steven Brand (as Memnon) comes straight from a crop of failed TV shows, director Chuck Russell is just coming off of one of the worst movies in 2000 (Bless the Child), and a script that had been rewritten numerous times by hacks that haven't made very much in terms of great screenplays. The best that could have been hoped for is that the film wouldn't be the worst movie of the year, and to its credit, it actually succeeds at least in not being totally unpalatable.
There are really three types of people who may want to see this, not necessarily mutually exclusive, but I will break it down so that you may know if The Scorpion King is worthwhile for you.
First, there are fans of The Rock, Dwayne's WWE alter-ego, and to them The Scorpion King may be a mixed bag. While Johnson actually shows some skill pulling off the stunt work (which he did himself) and carrying the film on his back in admirable fashion, the character is different from The Rock, and as long as you are prepared for that, you might be fine. Plus, like the WWE, The Scorpion King is merely an excuse for stunts and phony violence, and the script is about as intricate as a pro-wrestling main event. This film succeeds at, if anything, showcasing Johnson's talent as action hero, so it is recommended for you.
The next group of people are the fans of The Mummy series, and if you like those films, then you probably just like comic book adventures mixed with eye-popping special effects and hokey humor. Well, The Scorpion King is certainly delivers in all of those areas. However, don't go expecting it to tie in anymore to The Mummy, as The Scorpion King is a stand-alone adventure that, if not for the couple of scenes in The Mummy Returns, would have absolutely nothing to make you compare the two entities at all. The Mummy and The Scorpion King are both dumb, really dumb, fun -- if you like popcorn fluff, what the hell, it should deliver for most of you.
The last group is the largest and most demanding, and for which The Scorpion King will be considered a big disappointment, and that is the adventure flick fans. Yes, while there are stunts, special effects, exotic locales, and lots of action, it's all held together by the flimsiest of plotlines, with almost no character development to speak of. Heavily plagiarizing everything from Indiana Jones to Rambo, the film is a mish-mash of cliches from action films of the last 25 years, with almost nothing new to speak of save the star. In fact, while there is quite a bit of impressive stunt and special effects pieces, they aren't thrilling in the slightest, and by the end of the film you will probably come away feeling just as empty as you were going in, except eight bucks lighter. Bad comedy, bad drama, poor villains, historical inaccuracies, and a wafer-thin depth are all compounded to make The Scorpion King another vapid summer adventure sure to be readily digested and quickly forgotten almost as soon as the credits roll.
Summing up, unless you are a huge fan of The Rock or a fanatic for The Mummy flicks, The Scorpion King just doesn't have anything fresh or exciting enough to recommend. Rather than go to the theater, why not use that eight bucks to rent a triple feature of Conan the Barbarian, Raiders of the Lost Ark and First Blood. You will not only go to bed smiling but also wake up without the nasty hangover from time and money wasted.
©2002 Vince Leo