Directed By: Chuck Russell
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”), Steven Brand, Kelly Hu, Michael Clarke Duncan, Grant Heslov
Rated: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Parental Notes: This is a film appropriate for most teenagers. The violence is not overly graphic.
“The Scorpion King,” the third installment in Universal Pictures’ Mummy franchise, is a classic summer action movie. Not very clever or intelligent, but filled with action, attractive people, and the star power of lead Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock.
The previous two films, “The Mummy” and “The Mummy Returns” were set in the 1930s with flashbacks to Egypt under the Pharaohs, and were filled with both thrills and self-referential humor. “The Scorpion King” ditches both, and goes further back in time to Egypt before the Pharaohs. No mummies, no pyramids, just a nasty army headed by the invincible Memnon (Steven Brant), who uses a sorceress (Kelly Hu) to plan his attacks.
The remaining free tribes hire a trio of assassins to kill Memnon’s sorceress. Needless to say, two of the assassins are killed, and it’s up to the survivor, Mathayus (The Rock), to kill the lady. As is practically required in this sort of film, he winds up kidnapping her instead, and finds that she is not only quite pretty in what little clothing she’s wearing but is being used by Memnon against her will.
There’s very little in this film to surprise those who have seen more than one or two action films, from the comic-relief horse theif (Grant Heslov) to Memnon’s soldiers, who are efficient killers until they face Mathayus and turn into bumbling idiots. The film’s complete disregard for ancient history and geography isn’t much of a surprise either, but it can be fun to watch an educated seatmate twitch when Mathayus visits Gomorrah. The dialog is laughable, often purposefully so.
“The Scorpion King” relies on special effects much less than the previous films in the franchise, being a fairly simple sword-and-sandals action flick with some sorcery thrown in for good measure. Indeed, it’s practically a Conan film set in ancient Egypt, from Mattayus’ skimpy armor to the sorceress’ skimpier bits of cloth. The cheesy dialog and cliched camerawork only add to that impression.
The film’s great strength is in its star. The Rock handles the transition from World Wrestling Federation icon to sword-swinger with aplomb, and is more than willing to make a little fun of himself. His charm and ease in front of the camera make him likeable, and except for a couple of brief moments, one can almost forget his WWF persona. We know what’s going to happen in the film, but The Rock makes watching it a bit more interesting than it might be otherwise.
The biggest flaw is Brant’s Memnon, who never quite settles into a villainous stereotype. Every other character in the franchise has had his or her stereotype, from Brendan Frasier’s goofy hero in the previous installments to the self-effacing-but-deadly Mattayus of this film. Memnon, though, alternates between being a barbaric and invincible sword-swinger and being a smooth, cultured intellectual. That vascillation makes both versions of the character weaker, and he never solidifies as a proper villain.
If you’re looking for a fun way to kill a couple of hours, “The Scorpion King” is perfect, but be sure to check your disbelief at the door. Those looking for intellectual stimulation, another mummy film, or any surprises should probably go somewhere else.