I hate to be the bearer of sad and sobering — even depressing and dispiriting — news, but the shocking truth is this: The Rock (nee Dwayne Johnson) can’t act. I know, I know. That’s hard to believe, after his brilliantly rounded original portrayal of the “Scorpion King” in The Mummy Returns, but I very much fear it’s all too true. (Of course, this never stopped Schwarzenegger.) Fortunately, his first starring film doesn’t require him to act any more than it requires the viewer to think. And if you take the advice of the late Mr. Lennon and “turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,” you might actually have some fun with this spin-off from The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King. Never mind that the new movie has to almost completely rewrite the mythology of its parent film (hell, The Mummy Returns played fast and loose with The Mummy’s established mythology!) in order to work. Never mind that the resulting film makes very little sense. (It’s somehow educational to realize that the Don Johnson perpetual-three-day-manly-beard-growth razor was apparently in existence in Gomorrah some four or five thousand years ago — at least that’s the look, along with an alarmingly modern haircut, sported by arch bad guy Steven Brand. We won’t even mention the fact that The Rock never has to shave and appears to have had his legs waxed. That Gomorrah was a happening place.) Never mind that it’s all a mindboggling hodge-podge of more action-adventure films that you can shake a stick at. (Dotty scientist who actually helps save the day courtesy of the old Robert Siodmak/Burt Lancaster flick, The Crimson Pirate; comic sidekick courtesy of at least 467 other movies; precocious child sidekick courtesy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Mummy Returns, etc.) Never mind the fact that I, at least, couldn’t watch the antics of The Rock’s Dromedary without thinking of the old Johnny Carson routine about a bogus movie “starring Alice Faye, Fay Wray, Faye Dunaway and Hump the Wonder Camel.” Scientific sidekick, comic sidekick, precocious-child sidekick, animal sidekick … any more and The Rock would have been sidekicked to death. As it is, only the viewer is in mortal peril. Regardless, any movie that includes Michael Clarke Duncan spouting the immortal line, “If I am not a king, then why are you on your knees before me?” deserves some kind of consideration. Truth to tell, what keeps The Scorpion King from being a dismal experience is the simple fact that it very wisely doesn’t take itself seriously — not for a minute. Frankly, neither does The Rock, who’s content to be nothing more than a personality doing his shtick and winking at the audience. The film has a kind of a plot: Mathayus (The Rock) is the last of a race of skilled assassins, who has been hired to destroy the evil Memnon (Brand). Supposedly, this can be accomplished by killing off Memnon’s prophetess, Cassandra (Kelly Hu). Of course, Mathayus becomes romantically entangled with the woman instead, thereby sufficiently complicating things for 88 minutes of action, tepid romance and loads of comical bits. The Scorpion King is diverting enough while it’s on screen, but it’s ultimately about as substantial and real as the partially hydrogenated soybean oil that passes for butter on your movie-theater popcorn. What I want to know, though, is whether or not — Biblically speaking — The Rock was still in charge when God later decided to waste Gomorrah and how he fared in that scenario. But that’s what sequels are for.
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