In The Scorpion King we go back five thousand years--pre-king years as it were--to where we meet Matayus (The Rock) one of the last of the race Akkadians a desert tribe known for their expert assassins. When an evil ruler Memnon (Steven Brand) wreaks havoc on the land annihilating all who stand in his way and enslaving the rest the remaining free tribes try to put aside their differences and band together to stop him. The first thing they do is hire Matayus to assassinate Memnon's sorcerer a seer who helps him win all his battles. The Akkadian sneaks into the notorious city of Gomorrah and discovers the seer is a beautiful woman Cassandra (Kelly Hu). Instead of killing her he decides to take her into the desert badlands to lure Memnon out of the city. It doesn't necessarily work out as planned so Matayus must return to Gomorrah with his scrappy band of allies and open up a can of whup-ass. What a change of pace from when we first met the illustrious Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns. The husky king wasn't such a nice guy then but rather nasty and scorpion-like yet here he is risking life and limb to destroy the bad guy and become the hero king. What a difference a movie in which you're the leading man makes.
The acting in this film isn't really the big highlight but surprisingly there are some performances worth noting. Of course the big question in everyone's mind is whether The Rock (whose real name is Dwayne Johnson) can actually pull off an entire big budget feature all on his own--and the answer is a resounding yes. Sure the WWF pro wrestler has the brute strength to kick major tail but he also has the charisma and intelligence--yes I said intelligence--to make his Scorpion King palatable much more so than the early Arnold Schwarzenegger had in his Conan the Barbarian days. The Rock also has a sense of humor (you'd have to with a name like Dwayne). In a couple of comic-relief scenes with his token sidekick played hysterically by character actor Grant Heslov Heslov delivers the lines but it's Rock's reactions that sell it. All the rest of the characters fall neatly into their stereotypes except maybe the massive Michael Clarke Duncan who plays Matayus' reluctant ally. Going from his powerful Oscar-nominated performance in The Green Mile to playing second banana to a pro wrestler doesn't seem quite right does it?
Well The Scorpion King will never win any awards but we know that going in so we shouldn't complain too much about the trite dialogue and predictable plot. With uninspired direction from Chuck Russell (Bless the Child The Mask) King definitely derives from the Conan The Barbarian series mirroring many of the same elements--sorcery revenge all-out action. Actually the film starts off fairly strong with the action and characters set up convincingly. It veers away from any special effects relying more on hand-to-hand combat sword fighting and The Rock's fierce posturing but after about 45 minutes you start looking at your watch as you realized you've been watching the same fight sequence over and over again. Still the film will probably be successful enough to warrant a sequel and let's hope the next time around we find out how the Scorpion King turns to the dark side.