U.S. Release Date: April 19, 2002
Distributor: Universal
Writer: David Hayter
Producer: Kevin Misher, Stephen Sommers
Composer: John Debney
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Clarke Duncan
Running Time: 1 hour and 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of action violence and some sensuality)

Fastened to Formula
by Scott Holleran

Action picture fans, especially fans of The Rock, will probably favor The Scorpion King, a spin-off from the popular sequel, The Mummy Returns, itself a sequel to the blockbuster The Mummy. Those of us who have grown weary of the action film formula will find nothing original in The Scorpion King.

The Rock, whose first leading role consists of several grimaces and his trademark arched eyebrow, plays the warrior with a wink, though the ordinary plot doesn't afford him the chance to strut his stuff much. Unfortunately, the most intriguing part of The Scorpion King—which has nothing to do with The Mummy films—is abandoned; it's an intelligent plot point involving the movie's title and it would have been a better film had it been made the core of The Scorpion King's climax.

The story begins as assassin Mathyus (The Rock, a professional wrestler whose real name is Dwayne Johnson) is hired to kill brutal conqueror Memnon's sorcerer, a mystic who is Memnon's key to winning battles. Mathyus's patrons are a motley crew, one of the only tribes to outlast the marauding Memnon (Steven Brand); they include Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan of The Green Mile, The Planet of the Apes) a gargantuan warrior who mistrusts Mathyus.

The action gets going early as Mathyus sets out to find the sorcerer on his camel with his fellow warriors, encountering computer generated fire ants and acquiring a goofy sidekick, one of the more annoying conventions of the genre. As he discovers that the sorcerer is a mysterious, beautiful woman (the sensual Kelly Hu, Scorpion King's brightest star), Mathyus learns there's more to his assignment.

But not much more and nothing any eighth grader won't see coming.

Though The Scorpion King is tame by today's action standards—daringly substituting a story for blood and gore—the pared down approach is more like an episode of "Xena" than an enthralling adventure in faraway lands. There are some exciting moments and satisfactory fight choreography but the computer generated cities and sandstorm don't look real and the workmanlike effects leave the audience at the mercy of a plain script that obscures The Rock's most appealing feature: self-mocking humor.

Instead, The Scorpion King fastens itself to formula: the villain with a British accent—another tiresome habit in Hollywood—the tough guy turned teddy bear, a wide-eyed, stowaway kid and a politically correct cast that mixes accents, races and tribes with wild disregard for history. Set in the biblical Gomorrah and its environs, The Scorpion King is populated by a cast of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome characters, with giant Michael Clarke Duncan's character—whose role requires an agility the actor does not possess— standing in for Tina Turner.

It's as though screenwriter Jonathan Hales either adhered too closely to the Saturday afternoon formula or was pressured by Universal suits to create something strictly for the kiddies, hardly The Rock's demographic. The result barely justifies paying matinee fare.

This is The Rock's first top-billed movie and neither he nor the film are unbearable—director Chuck Russell's timing is crisp and his world is marginally benevolent, not consumed by dark impulses like most of today's action films—but even The Rock's diehard fans can safely wait for the DVD/video release.

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