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The Scorpion King   F

Universal Pictures

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Chuck Russell
Writers: Stephen Sommers, William Osborne, David Hayter
Cast: The Rock, Kelly Hu, Bernard Hill, Grant Heslov, Peter Facinella, Michael Clarke Duncan, Steven Brand, Ralf Moeller, Sherri Howard.

Review by Rob Vaux

Oh come on. Like you couldn't smell this turkey rotting from miles away. Early reviews of The Scorpion King have been somewhat better than expected. Don't you believe them. Movies starring pro wrestlers rarely aspire to great art, but some basic competence isn't too much to ask. This botched, bungled, bottom-rung snoozer is about as entertaining as roadkill in the sun.

Defenders of The Scorpion King will say it's an unpretentious romp: a revamped Saturday afternoon serial with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. Such was the case with its two predecessors, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. But those films had a better sense of their own campiness, which lent genuine fun to the proceedings. They also had a decent director in Stephen Sommers and an engaging star in Brendan Frasier. This go 'round feels two beats off; director Chuck Russell is too plodding to really mince it up, and too timid to make the material watchable. In his hands, the winks fall flat and the in-jokes seem more grating than endearing. Add to that an incompetent production, tiresome action scenes, and some truly terrible acting, and you have a Z-grade howler for the ages.

It's hard not to feel a bit bad for the Rock, who stars as the title character. If any role could work for a pro wrestler, it's this one. He has little to do but flex his muscles, thrash the bad guys, and cop a 'tude at the camera. But even lightweight parts need talent to pull off, and the sad fact of the matter is that the Rock can't act. At all. Nice guy. Means well. Tries hard. Can't act. Nor can his supporting cast, who were chosen more for their naked gleaming skin than any discernable thespian skills. Those who lack well-toned abs to flash make up for it by shamelessly hamming it up, gnawing on the scenery to keep from drowning in an ocean of cleavage. You wouldn't think that matters for a film like this, but The Scorpion King surprises you. Try listening to five minutes of the Rock's screechy sidekick (Grant Heslov), or avoid cringing whenever his chief adversary (Steven Brand) opens his mouth. Not since John Wayne's The Conqueror have so many performers looked so consistently amateurish.

The rest of the production is equally inept. Set in that magic, wondrous part of the ancient world that looks just like Ventura County, it insists on recycling every adventure-movie gimmick it can get its hands on. The Scorpion King belongs to a dying tribe of assassins, charged with slaying the soothsaying advisor (Kelly Hu) of a would-be warlord (Brand). Betrayed by his employers, he launches upon an orgy of hastily choreographed action sequences intended to kill the villain, save the girl, and unite the people beneath his ubiquitous eyebrow. The laughable dialogue serves mainly to connect one set piece after another, none of which displays any flash or imagination. The Rock's WWF exploits contain far more excitement than the fights shown here, and rarely has cutting-edge CGI looked so tacky and threadbare. It's one thing to save money by cutting a few corners. It's another to disembowel a heavily hyped film with bogus visuals and dull-as-dirt swordplay. Next time, guys, just drop all pretense and use tinfoil and string.

It goes without saying that the Scorpion King was the freaking bad guy in the last movie, which makes it a bit of a stretch to see him as the hero here. But such little details shouldn't matter in a project like this. Other fantasy epics have struck the right cheesy tone, allowing us to enjoy them without questioning the flaws in their logic. If The Scorpion King had a proper sense of itself, you might be able to overlook the pratfalls, continuity errors and other considerable shortcomings. But it doesn't and you can't. It takes more than a few badly timed elbows in the ribs to make silk out of this sow's ear. The Scorpion King may have a future of sorts on late night cable -- a double bill with The Beastmaster III, perhaps -- but it can't get there quick enough for me. In some ways, its mythic material is a perfect fit. This is the sort of bomb from which legends are made.

Review published 04.22.2002.

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