So What If He Can't Act?
The Rock emerges as a bona fide action-adventure star in The Scorpion King. Despite his robotic performance, pro-wrestler Dwayne Johnson exudes enough screen charisma to make this rip-off of The Emperor and the Assassin as watchable as the cheesy movie serials kids loved in days of yore. With his magnificent physique and chiseled good looks, he resembles Victor Mature in those old Samson and Delilah-type flicks --- if Mature were on steroids, that is.
Showing various emotions by turning his head quickly one way or the other, or moving it up or down, Johnson could be the Terminator of ancient times. Come to think of it, he also reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger at the beginning of his career. I didnít believe much would come of Ah-nuld then, and I donít want to be wrong again --- so, because dramatic ability doesnít count in these popular "fight means right" movies, I predict a great Hollywood future for The Rock if he sticks to this particular genre. Itís a hoot to see him chomp on jumbo ants, pull an arrow out of his back, and leap unscathed through a raging fire.
The character of The Scorpion King was introduced briefly in The Mummy Returns, a very loud movie whose runaway action and redundant special effects annoyed me throughout. Although many of the same people are behind the scenes in Scorpion, this spin-off did not irritate me, probably because it emphasizes fast-paced martial arts sequences and a satisfactory adventure story in place of ear-numbing sound and mind-boggling visuals.
Depicting how a warrior named Mathayus (Johnson) evolves from assassin to ruler, The Scorpion King takes place 2000 years before the events of The Mummy Returns, thereby causing some confusion. But, never mind about that. In this flick, reason takes a back seat to plain dumb fun --- including a beautiful sorceress (Kelly Hu) who falls for Mathayus, scantily clad warriors of both sexes, and huge muscle men (like Michael Clarke Duncan from The Green Mile) battling each other in hand-to-hand combat or with knives, swords, and bows and arrows. Itís a big-screen video game for kids of all ages.
Inspired by the tales of a legendary Egyptian ruler, the story begins with a plan to destroy the cruel Memnon, portrayed with disappointing blandness by Steven Brand (Beyond Bedlam), who will stop at nothing to rule the known world. Mathayus and his small band of assassins are hired to kill the sorcerer responsible for Memnonís impressive victories. When Mathayus discovers the sorcerer is a woman, he takes her hostage instead, hoping to bring about direct confrontation with Memnon. "I create my own destiny," he declares.
Hu (Strange Days) takes her role as Cassandra, the sorceress, seriously. When she inhales scorpion poison from our heroís body, her intensity produces an erotic atmosphere that surprised me for a "PG-13" movie. Huís impressive performance is the only one of substance here, and I hope to see this fine actress in many more films.
Director Chuck Russell (The Mask) claims to love films like The Adventure of Robin Hood and The Crimson Pirate. "I had always wanted to direct a period sword-fighting adventure," he says. "Those classic films had a great sense of fun about them. They swept you away with high adventure, great heart and an uplifting spirit that I wanted to re-create for this film. Having The Rock in that kind of setting with that kind of action seemed like an amazing match to me."
Although The Scorpion King fails to equal the adventure classics mentioned by Russell, itís a step in the right direction. Iím certain there will be at least one sequel. My advice for the next installment: add more humor and a really nasty villain.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of action violence and some sensuality.)