Some very scary looking guys are about to kill a guy who would be even scarier-looking if he wasn’t tied up. But then everyone steps back in awe of a guy who steps in looking scariest of all and as they hesitate, he cocks an eyebrow and says simply, “Boo.” That is the Rock (WWF star Dwayne Johnson) and he plays the title role in this prequel to the “Mummy” movies, giving us the background of the character who appeared briefly but memorably in the second one as half-man, half very large bug.
This movie does not pretend to having anything like the wit and charm of the “Mummy” movies, which were a loving tribute to Saturday morning serials. It is produced by Vince McMahon, Chairman of the WWF (and one of its star performers). McMahon has made a fortune making wrestling matches into stories, with vivid characters and dramatic confrontations. “The Scorpion King” just takes it one step further, a three-act wrestling drama with computer graphics. Maybe the next step will be adding arias and turning it into an opera.
On the silly popcorn scale, it works pretty well, largely due to its star. The Rock has genuine screen presence. He even manages most of the material better than Michael Clarke Duncan (“The Green Mile,” “The Whole Nine Yards”) who is just too much of an actor to deliver the cheesy dialogue with the right mix of sincerity and irony, and Peter Facinelli (“Can’t Hardly Wait,” “The Big Kahuna”), whose thin-voiced delivery doesn’t convey the necessary petulant malevolence.
The Rock is the good guy. He has a comical sidekick. No one bothered to give him a name. He is actually listed in the credits as “Comical Sidekick” (Grant Heslov). There is also a bad guy (English accented, of course), evil dictator Memnon (Steven Brand), who relies on a sorceress (Kelly Hu) to guide him in battle. The sorceress is beautiful. You get where this is all going; I don’t have to spell it out.
There is one innovation worth mentioning. In action movies, the hero is almost always stoic, even when he gets hurt. Think of Rambo sewing up his own wounds. But the Rock, carrying over the conventions of professional wrestling, grimaces in pain when he gets hurt. It doesn’t rise to the level of acting, but in a funny way I think that it adds some heart to the story.
Parents should know that the movie has a lot of action violence, meaning that it is not too graphic or gory. There are some vivid images, including attacking cobras, an impaled body, and a dead child. And there are very vivid sound effects making on- and off-screen violence more explicit with spurting and squishing sounds. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations, including two women in a man’s bed. There are no four-letter words, but there are some strong epithets.
Families who see this movie should talk about Memnon’s claim that order was better than freedom. They may also want to talk about how the sorceress protected herself from Memnon.