Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:29 - Released 4/19/02

Fans of 1999's The Mummy, in which Brendan Fraser cracked wise while battling a huge face of sand, thousands of scarab beetles, and various other impressive CGI effects, and of last summer's The Mummy Returns, where he had to fight a half man/half scorpion villain played by wrestling star Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock), may be disappointed when they see Chuck Russell's The Scorpion King, which has very little to do with mummies, scorpions, cool effects, or Brendan Fraser. The Rock doesn't become a scorpion this time—he becomes Arnold Schwarzenegger. Adapting the skills he uses in his day job to the much more lucrative field of feature film, Johnson assumes the mantle of leading player, turning ancient Egypt into one long, costumed WWF match, except without the folding chairs. Director Russell, whose short resumé includes such hits as The Mask and such dreck as Bless The Child, crafts a serviceable but very run-of-the-mill action flick with no sand facials, no mummies, and no one turning into anything.

I suppose this would be categorized as a prequel, since it takes place many thousands of years before the ancient Egypt we (and Brendan Fraser) know and love. At this time in fabricated history, the people all live in various tribes headed up by various warlords, but they are all ruled by King Memnon (Steven Brand), a vicious monarch who governs his people in kinda the same way Hitler governed the Jews. But he is invincible in war thanks to his trusted advisor, who can predict the future and therefore ensure Memnon's success in just about any battle. So the tribesmen decide to hire an outcast named Mathayus (Johnson) to assassinate the psychic. Trouble is, she turns out to be a fabulous babe named Cassandra (Kelly Hu) with no love for her king. To this scenario add a comic sidekick (Grant Heslov), an elderly inventor with the recipe for dynamite (Bernard Hill), and a big, tough dude whose only decent part ever was in another movie called The Green Mile (Michael Clarke Duncan), and you've got yourself an action flick.

It's not as if this film didn't have capable writers. The story was devised by Jonathan Hales, who, in addition to being one of the creators behind TV's Young Indiana Jones Chronicles also assisted George Lucas in writing the upcoming Star Wars episodes II and III, and Stephen Sommers, writer and director of both previous Mummy movies. And it was adapted into a screenplay by Sommers, David Hayter (X-Men), and William Osborne. The script borrows heavily from better films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Green Mile, a fact which seems to emphasize that someone's running out of ideas. But it's not the writing that makes this a so-so flick, it's the mediocre quality of talent. While The Rock looks good and obviously knows how to please the crowd, his acting ability makes his name seem all the more appropriate. **½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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