starring The Rock, Steven Brand, Kelly Hu, Michael Clarke Duncan
screenplay by David Hayter and Wil Osborne and Stephen Sommers
directed by Chuck Russell
by Walter Chaw I stopped marking the rip-offs perpetrated in The Scorpion King once Kelly Hu's jiggle priestess recreated a scene entire from Mike Hodges's legendary craptavaganza Flash Gordon. Sadly, The Scorpion King doesn't have the benefit of a Queen soundtrack to push the "just bad" into campy. It steals the rolling gong gag from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the cave murders and human bow-hunting of Rambo III, the feral kid of The Road Warrior, and its overriding ethos, apparently unintentionally, from Sergio Aragonés's comic book barbarian "Groo." If you manage to stifle a chuckle when Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock) suffers all manner of horrendous falls and physical mortifications with a confused expression that all but screams "did I err?"...well, you're a better man than I.
Mendicant Mathayus (Johnson) is the last Arcadian--a race of assassins eradicated like the rest of the tribes of The Scorpion King's world by evil sword-master and de facto Taranto, Memnon (Steven Brand). The bad guy reliant on an Arba sorceress Cassandra (Hu--and here I thought no one listened to Cassandra's prophecies) for something or another, Mathayus is hired to kill her but (gasp) makes sweet love to her instead. Michael Clarke Duncan adds to his growing list of incredibly inept wooden monsters and Grant Heslov plays someone helpfully called "comedic sidekick" in the credits. The plot progresses around Mathayus inciting numerous frays (of which he is gifted); it's mulch of the first water.
Johnson is abominable, a stock collection of WWF stage postures and arched eyebrows sure to drive Vince McMahan's frustrated pre-teen male demographic into a barely sublimated homoerotic tizzy, but not much good for anything else. Professional hack Charles Russell obfuscates the swordplay with spastic strobe cuts that have actually made me epileptic, while every time Johnson performs a body-slam or a suplex the creepy wet sound of a thousand eyeballs rolling fills the theatre. In The Rock's defense, he's just taking the action hero torch passed along by such other barely sentient oaks as Arnold and Sylvester. But exactly twenty years after Milius's Conan the Barbarian, we have the right to demand something more than a spiritless and vaguely pathetic retread.
The Scorpion King is originality-free (its best part, the opening, is still not as good as any part of the mediocre The Thirteenth Warrior, from which it "borrows"), lifeless, and laden with a screenplay that uses the word "kill" and "killing" so many times that one suspects the film's popularity as an aid to binge drinking games was considered. The first summer blockbuster of 2002 is probably best described as just that: a cacophonous mess of really bad CGI, really bad acting, and loud metal music bundled together with a PG-13 squeamishness that robs even the prurient of much of interest. The Scorpion King is disposable entertainment for a disposable season, poised on the precipice of being forgotten utterly when Sam Raimi's Spider-Man opens in a couple of weeks. Originally published: April 19, 2002.