Skip to main content

I may be a king, but I'm a wrestler first.


The Scorpion King
(2002)

I studiously avoided this prequel to The Mummy Returns on release because I was so repelled by that film’s incompetent CGI monstrosity of the Scorpion King himself. It turns out I did Chuck Russell’s film a small disservice for, whilst it bears originator Stephen Sommers’ smudged knuckle prints in the script department, he is crucially absent behind the camera. The result is an old-school sword-and-sandals picture, with more than a slight doffing of the hat to Conan the Destroyer, that doesn’t outstay its welcome and doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been beaten about the head by ILM (in the interests of fairness, eight effects houses are credited for the disastrous visuals in The Mummy Returns).

Russell hasn’t helmed a film in more than a decade; this is his last credit. Perhaps there are personal reasons, or he just hasn’t found anything to tickle his fancy. It’s not as if he was shunned for delivering a string of flops; he has the most respect A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel to his name as well as significant hits in the forms of The Mask and Eraser. Although, picking up on an inferior director’s “inspired” cast-offs does seem a bit like slumming it. Russell’s no auteurist dazzler behind the camera, but he’s a competent pair of hands who knows where to position the camera and how to ensure that action is coherent. He also doesn’t feel obliged to vault through the story at a breakneck pace, drama and tension be damned. He’s everything Stephen Sommers is not, basically, and for that he deserves some small praise.

I won’t get carried away, though. This is all relative, and I came upon Scorpion King after enduring TMR. Things don’t look good in the opening scene. The Rock appears wise-cracking (his first line, is “Boo!”) and there’s an inappropriate electric guitar on the soundtrack. But John Debney’s score proves to be agreeable rather than jarring in the long run, while John R Leonetti’s cinematography may not be striking but the plastic sheen of Sommers’ movies is thankfully absent.

The plot, as it is (I’m assuming the better elements come from the co-credited Watchmen and X-Men scribe David Hayer), sees Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s titular character (at this point a mercenary known as Mathayus) employed to kill nefarious King Memnon’s (Steven Brand) victory-ensuring sorceress Cassandra (Kelly Hu). Inspired name, that. I’ll bet that one came from Sommers. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned. Instead of killing her, he abducts her, and then leads a force against the King.

So it’s a bog standard premise, but Russell is blessed with the surprisingly charismatic Johnson as his leading man. His self-conscious delivery actually suits the material, so when you discover he has a pet camel, which he talks to, it’s amusing rather than tiresome. Most of the other performers don’t fare as well, from the obligatory comedy sidekick (The Men Who Stare at Goats helmer and Clooney pal Grant Heslov) to Michael Clark Duncan’s initially-at-loggerheads-but-sure-to-be great friends eventually tribal leader. Bernard Hill bizarrely shows up as a crackpot inventor, while Peter Facinelli (lately banished to Twilight movies) is a conniving turncoat.

Most damagingly, the villain is rubbish; Brand has little presence aside from acting like a swaggering prick. Hu, who would memorably clash claws with Wolverine in X2 the following year, doesn’t make an impression for her performance, it must be said.  That’s okay, as it doesn’t seem to be why she was cast. Instead, her form is much-adored by the camera as she progresses through a series of skimpy costumes; certainly as scanty as a PG-13 will allow.

Obvious CGI is limited, aside from re-use of the series’ crawling critters programme; this time to have Johnson threatened by large red ants. King didn’t make even half the sum of its parent films at the box office, but then it’s in a difficult genre. And, quite possibly, the lack of ADD on the part of its director was off-putting to viewers who expected something that barely made sense. Too slow, no doubt. Or maybe, as seems to have been confirmed subsequently, the Rock just isn’t a major box office draw.

I’m making it sound like The Scorpion King is a good film. It isn’t, but it’s a tolerable movie that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. And you won’t finish watching it feeling as if your retinas have been assaulted. Which is more than you can say for Stephen Sommers-ville.

**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Doctor, eh? You’re not in the best of shape yourself, though, are you?

Doctor Who  Season 26 – Worst to Best
I’m not a big Seventh Doctor fan. For me, Doctor Who pretty much ended with Season 23 (and not because it was awful: see here). Yes, there have been a few nu-Who reprieves (mostly notably Matt Smith’s first season), but the McCoy era flaunted an abundance of sins, from a lead who wasn’t up to snuff, to a script-editor messaging his social conscience wrapped in a breeze block (or bilge bag), to production values that made any given earlier era look absurdly lavish in comparison. And then there was the “masterplan” (which at least lends Season 24 a rather innocuous and relatively inoffensive quality by contrast).

Nevertheless, on the occasions I do return to the era, I’m always minded to give it a fair shake. And while that resolve inevitably crumbles within minutes, under the duress of cold harsh reality, it has, at times, led to a positive reappraisal (The Happiness Patrol, and, to an extent, perhaps unfathomably, Time and the Rani). So we’ll see ho…

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.