2002-04-25 / Arts & Entertainment

"Scorpion King" Has Same ‘Campy Spirit’ As Predecessors

"Scorpion King" Has Same ‘Campy Spirit’ As Predecessors

Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, stars in the title role as "The Scorpion King." 										            cUniversal PicturesDwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, stars in the title role as "The Scorpion King." cUniversal Pictures

By David Germain

AP Movie Writer

There’s two choices on "The Scorpion King": You can laugh AT The Rock or laugh WITH him as he poses, flexes, glowers and pile-drives his way through a string of violent dust-ups in ancient Egypt.

The safe bet is you’ll laugh with him.

"The Scorpion King," an offshoot of "The Mummy" franchise, is a brisk, amiably silly fist fest that establishes pro wrestler The Rock as heir apparent to Arnold Schwarzenegger for favorite on-screen bruiser.

With testosterone to spare, this is a guy’s flick among guy flicks, delivering bone-crunching action, goofy humor, loads of nasty creepy-crawlies including cobras and ravenous fire ants, and a solid skin factor courtesy of scantily clad co-star Kelly Hu.

"The Scorpion King" flies by quickly, nicely paced by director Chuck Russell, who keeps the swords, arrows and punches flying in good, old-fashioned, swashbuckling style.

And critical to the movie’s success, its violence is cartoonish and sanitized enough to draw a PG-13 rating so the film can pack in the early teen-age boys.

Reprising his brief role in last year’s "The Mummy Returns," The Rock stars as Mathayus, one of the last survivors of an ancient race of Akkadian assassins.

Mathayus is hired by ravaged tribes to kill the sorceress Cassandra (Hu), whose advice has helped the evil warlord Memnon (Steven Brand) drive his opponents to near extinction. Yet Cassandra proves strangely sympathetic to Mathayus, who, after a series of daring escapes from Memnon’s thugs, kidnaps the sorceress and flees with her into the desert.

They wind up as allies in the fight against Memnon, aided by the Nubian behemoth Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan), inventor Philos (Bernard Hill) and comic-relief geek Arpid (Grant Heslov).

"After a hard day of looting and pillaging, there’s no greater city than Gomorrah," Arpid proclaims as he and Mathayus approach the sinful city. "Except maybe Sodom."

Peter Facinelli as Memnon’s villainous ally, Prince Takmet, and Olympic gold medalist Sherri Howard as Queen Isis rounds out the main cast.

Stephen Sommers, writer-director of both "Mummy" movies, is a producer and co-wrote the screenplay for "The Scorpion King," which has the same campy spirit as its predecessors.

"Scorpion King" relies far less than "The Mummy" flicks on glitzy visual effects, leaning instead on stunts, swordplay and bare-knuckle combat. Watching the battle of the giants when The Rock and Duncan mix it up is almost worth the price of a ticket alone (and it’s no less believable than a choreographed championship bout in the professional wrestling world).

For all the grace-on-wires of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and the slow-motion finesse of "The Matrix" and its many copycats, "Scorpion King" is a nice reversion to pure power over agility.

At its core, the movie is a doozy of a street brawl, fueled by The Rock’s hulking presence. He doesn’t show much greater acting skill than he did in "The Mummy Returns," but like Schwarzenegger in his earlier action movies, The Rock is a physically riveting specimen who manages enough drollery in his delivery to convince audiences that someone’s actually home beneath all that muscle.

"The Scorpion King" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and some sensuality. Running time: 91 minutes.

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