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Bob Smithouser

Movie Review

In last summer’s The Mummy Returns, World Wrestling Federation superhunk Dwayne Douglas Johnson—better known as The Rock—made his big-screen debut as the menacing Scorpion King. That brief appearance as a bow-wielding, centaur-like, half-human/half-arachnid made quite an impression. Producer Kevin Misher recalls, “We were blown away by his charisma and presence in those first dailies for The Mummy Returns. Even though he was speaking his lines in Egyptian, he was incredibly compelling. We started coming up with a project for him right then and there.”

The project, an action-packed spin-off appropriately titled The Scorpion King, is a prequel exploring the character’s rise to power over 5,000 years ago. The Rock plays Mathayus, a muscle-bound Akkadian assassin. He’s commissioned by a group of otherwise antagonistic tribes that band together as a last resort to thwart Memnon, a ruthless tyrant who threatens to wipe out their clans, one by one. Memnon’s army has never tasted defeat thanks to a beautiful sorceress named Cassandra whose mystical visions give the despot the information he needs to emerge victorious from any battle. It’s Mathayus’ job to execute her, thus allowing the newly allied tribes to fight legitimately for their survival. But she’s such a knockout, Mathayus can’t bring himself to destroy her. So he kidnaps her instead. The rest of the film’s meager 89 minutes give the pair a chance to fall in love amid nonstop battle scenes that build to an ultimate showdown between Mathayus and Memnon.

positive elements: Mathayus shows mercy to a few folks, sparing rivals who then become his friends. Forced to choose between shooting Memnon or rescuing a young boy, Mathayus helps the lad. During battle scenes, the good guys put themselves on the line for one another. Cassandra tries to stop the killing by telling Memnon that murder can never bring peace. Mathayus defends Cassandra. On two occasions, she risks her life to save his. Told that he will die if he confronts Memnon, Mathayus refuses to give in to fatalism, determining, “I make my own destiny.” He also wants to establish a peaceful kingdom.

spiritual content: Polytheism reigns, with many references to “the gods.” Cassandra is a sorceress who, on one occasion, uses the ancient equivalent of a Ouija board to help her summon visions. At other times she goes into trance-like states or channels healing power.

sexual content: Nothing raw, but lots of cheap titillation and peekaboo nudity. Cassandra is naked in several scenes, with hair or other objects concealing key anatomy and barely preserving the film’s PG-13 rating. It is implied that her mystical powers are contingent on her virginity, which she gives away to Mathayus. Nubian king Balthazar wakes up beside not one, but two women. Most of the females in this film (even the warriors) wear immodest clothing revealing much cleavage. A group of prostitutes propositions Mathayus as he strolls through a marketplace in Gomorrah. Later he ends up in a harem full of eager young women. A small boy tosses a coin into a wishing well, from which emerges a nude Cassandra (shown from behind, though it is suggested that the boy gets an eyeful). While trying to treat his wounds, Cassandra straddles Mathayus in a distinctly sexual manner.

violent content: Without a doubt, The Scorpion King has the highest body count of any film so far this year. Before the film is a minute old, a man gets hit in the face with a flying metal star. That sets the tone for what is a relatively bloodless, yet headache-inducing barrage of violence. Countless people get shot with arrows, run through with swords, stabbed with knives (airborne and otherwise), hacked with axes, thrown from great heights or decapitated. An ambitious prince brags of killing his father, and proves it by producing the severed head. Some of the more graphic deaths (such as when Mathayus’ brother gets his throat slit) occur just out of the frame, but leave little to the imagination. Several soldiers are consumed by quicksand. Another is impaled on a stalagmite. Still other bad guys are subdued with bone-crunching punches, hung by the neck, consumed by ravenous fire ants, or incinerated in a climactic explosion. Also, violent acts are committed by and against women and children.

crude or profane language: Crude slang for urine, one exclamation of “good lord,” and a few sexual innuendoes.

drug and alcohol content: None.

other negative elements: Mathayus’ hatred of Memnon is largely fueled by vengeance over his brother’s murder. Similarly, just before killing a traitorous brat, Balthazar takes pleasure in being the one to administer payback. These “heroes” cut a swath through their enemies unfettered by moral conscience.

conclusion:“The assassin and the sorceress. How romantic,” hisses the evil (and strangely European) Memnon upon finding Mathayus and Cassandra together. When you stop to think about it, they are a strange pair to be rooting for. The hero is a killing machine. The heroine is skilled in the occult. Hollywood sure has a way of convincing us that evil can be good. But even more disturbing to me was the film’s nonstop violence mixed with intermittent sexuality, a potent adrenaline cocktail targeted squarely at preadolescent males. Although this isn’t a particularly good film at any level, expect to see more of WWF champ The Rock who, based on this Conan-esque role, could be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Bob Smithouser