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The Scorpion King (April 19/02)

After the incredible success of last year's Mummy sequel, another foray into ancient Egypt was inevitable. But instead of the continued adventures of Brendan Fraser, The Scorpion King acts as a prequel to the events depicted in The Mummy Returns (and even the first Mummy).

The film opens with a spectacular sequence that finds Mathayus (played by, no surprise, The Rock AKA Dwayne Johnson) rescuing his brother from impending death. The film quickly shifts gears, and we're soon introduced to Memnon (Steven Brand), an evil emperor bent on world domination (they always are, really). Mathayus has no quarrel with Memnon - as a bounty hunter of sorts, he only hates who he's paid to hate. But Memnon raises Mathayus' ire when he murders someone close to him, so (not surprisingly) the rest of the film entails Mathayus' quest to kill Memnon.

The Scorpion King, by all rights, should be a terrible movie. The first two Mummy movies were over-the-top, wall-to-wall special effects extravaganzas but little else. Unconcerned with silly things like plot or character development, those films took off like a rollercoaster and never looked back. So, it would have been reasonable to expect a similar structure from The Scorpion King, which was co-written (though not directed) by Stephen Sommers - the man responsible for the Mummy and its sequel.

But surprisingly enough, The Scorpion King proves to be goofy, silly, and even a little campy - but most of all, it's just fun. Johnson knows he's a terrible actor, but he manages to infuse so much charisma into his performance, it almost makes up for the fact that he couldn't act his way out of a paper bag (upon entering a harem filled with a dozen beautiful women, his raised eyebrow says more than any dialogue could). The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable, especially an awkwardly placed comic relief sidekick (how out of place is he? The character doesn't even have a name), but let's face it, everyone going to see The Scorpion King wants to see The Rock.

While both Mummy films were filmed abroad in exotic locations like Morocco and Egypt, The Scorpion King was shot entirely in Arizona. But considering a good portion of the movie takes place in the desert, it doesn't seem too conspicuous. Chuck Russell, best known for directing The Blob and The Mask, takes over the reigns and does an admirable job. The climactic battle resembles something out of Star Wars, with three separate fights occurring at the same time. Russell keeps the pace brisk, though some unnecessary subplots - added to beef up the running time, no doubt - tend to slow things down.

So, while hardcore fans of the first two Mummy films will likely be disappointed in the lack of big special effects, The Scorpion King is nevertheless entertaining enough to warrant a cheap matinee.

out of

© David Nusair