Hollywood action would-be blockbusters are, by their very definition, the most shameless of commercial enterprises, concerned more with raking in as much cash as possible than actual quality. That said, such films generally make at least some marginal attempt to justify their existence in a cinematic sense, whether it be interesting action scenes, special effects, or whatever. Director Chuck Russell and everyone else behind “The Scorpion King” fail to even deliver a “whatever”–unless you count the utterances of that which will surely emit from the mouths of moviegoers nationwide once the closing credits start rolling.
Give the film a stray thought, and the entire enterprise comes crashing down; after all, the project is built upon a foundation of absurdities. It’s a spin-off vehicle for a character from The Mummy Returns — and a relatively briefly seen character at that, not to mention one that ultimately turned out to be that film’s main villain. But most of all, the movie is designed to be a showcase for pro wrestling superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and everyone knows that charisma and popularity in the squared circle doesn’t necessarily translate to the big screen. Raising even more questions is The Rock’s very fleeting and highly forgettable portrayal of the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns; after all, the character’s most memorable moments belonged to an all-CGI incarnation at movie’s end, and his fleeting and forgettable few minutes in the role at the movie’s open didn’t exactly make one clamor for a larger taste of what The Rock could cook on the big screen.
That taste, as provided in “The Scorpion King,” isn’t all that bitter, however. The Rock fulfills the bare minimum requirements of his role, which is to be a believable physical presence in the many action scenes and recite his lines competently. One would have gotten a better idea as to whether or not he can really act, though, if the filmmakers weren’t also just interested in fulfilling bare minimums. The film takes place many years before The Mummy Returns, and the Akkadian warrior Mathayus is out to kill the evil conquerer Memnon (Steven Brand). That’s the entire story, and from there Russell should have theoretically taken over and served up energetic, exciting action scenes and impressive special effects. But all the swordplay and mayhem lie flat on the screen, offering nothing particularly interesting in how it all is staged and shot. The only action sequence leaving any sort of impression is memorable for all the wrong reasons: a campy, pro-wrestling-like brawl between The Rock and co-star Michæl Clarke Duncan (who plays a fellow warrior).
Pity poor Duncan, a likable and gifted actor who deserves better than playing a secondary banana to The Rock; ditto the stunning Kelly Hu, who is given absolutely no opportunity to show off her extensive martial arts training as Memnon’s scantily clad sorceress. Mathayus kidnaps her as part of his master plan, and before long her chastity-powered psychic abilities are put into jeopardy as she finds herself drawn to her studly captor.
That last line makes “The Scorpion King” sound like one of those deliciously bad movies, but those amusingly cheesy touches are drastically outnumbered by the fizzled jokes (supplied by Grant Heslov as Mathayus’ deathly unfunny sidekick) and uninspired set pieces that make the sub-90-minute run time feel far longer than it is. The Rock indeed lays the smackdown on the audience in “The Scorpion King,” but hardly in the way he intended.