The Scorpion King

Is an abundance of Rock-steady action enough to satisfy our connoisseurs of cheese?

By Diana Estigarribia and Sarah Kuhn
April 22, 2002

As certified cheese-action movie junkies, Entertainment Geekly‘s Sarah and Diana were first in line for The Scorpion King, the prequel to the equally kitsch-a-riffic Mummy flicks. Mining the same pseudo “ancient worlds” mythology, SK follows the Akkadian Mathayus (The Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson in his first starring role), a surly mercenary who fights off mean ol’ warlord type Memnon (Steven Brand) and eventually becomes the royalty of the title. He’s assisted in his quest by a comely sorceress (Kelly Hu), a goofy horse thief (Grant Heslov), and an equally buff warrior (Michael Clarke Duncan).

How Mathayus/The Rock goes from cretin to king isn’t really important in a flick like this — what is important is that there is an abundance of dusty, desert-bound fights, loving shots of Kelly’s glistening thighs, and plenty of Rock-style action. But is that enough for our discerning critics of silver screen style cheese, who were in no way influenced by The Rock’s incredibly well-oiled pecs? Let’s find out…

Diana: How do I type moaning sounds?

Sarah: As in, “The lame stock genre characters are making me ill” moaning sounds?

Diana: No, I mean sexually-related type moans at the sight of a beautiful male body.

Sarah: Oh, right, cause you gots a thing for The Rock…

Diana: It’s not so much a thing as a…well, I don’t what to call it. It’s weird. It’s not like I like him romantically, I just like to look at him, cause he’s so easy on the eyes. And I feel like he’s got a brain, like he is intelligent and charismatic.

Sarah: Whatever, you just want to be Mrs. The Rock! I appreciate him as one would appreciate a fine biological specimen, but as crush material…I dunno, he looks like he’s made out of vinyl or something.

Diana: Unfortunately, there already is a Mrs. Rock. But she’s gorgeous and if I recall correctly, a Latina!

Sarah: Just like you!

Diana: Yes. Didn’t you love the cold open? And that entrance! “Boo.”

Sarah: Purely, perfectly over the top!

Diana: It was awesome! Thigh-slapping, foot-stomping fun. He is a walking, talking action figure doll. But when you see him out of his costume, he looks a little more real.

Sarah: Um, how out of costume are we talking here?

Diana: In street clothes, I mean.

Sarah: Riiiiiiiiiiight. He looks like an actual human? I just can’t see it. I imagine The Rock in his everyday life just wearing bits of leather and skintight jumpsuits and shit. Even when he’s just watching The Osbournes or whatever.

Diana: Ha. During the sorceress-straddles-Scorpion king scene, there were women behind me moaning and giggling at each other. Much ribbing. Like, “Uuuhhhhh, I wish I was her!” I actually liked that she was not a typical woman-in-jeopardy, like Rachel Weisz in the Mummy movies.

Sarah: I don’t know. I wanted more for her. I loved her in the snake scene, but otherwise…? Pffft. Kelly Hu got to kick shit all over the place when she was on Martial Law, but here she occasionally seemed like a prop.

Diana: The one thing that I was expecting, was that in the end, the whole thing about her losing her powers with her virginity would turn out to be sort of half false. Like, she loses her sight, but she discovers she’s got other magical powers… she’s come into her “real” power, now that she’s discovered her sexual power.

Sarah: Right. Like, “I can bend snakes to my will, yo. Shut up!”

Diana: Yeah! When I saw that I was like, “I knew it!” She’s gonna be like, “I had these other powers all along! I just needed to screw some gorgeous hunk of man!” You know, it’s not PC or feminist to think this, but whenever I go see these movies, I just wish I could wear what these chicks are wearing. Like, I’d love to be wearing that sorceress outfit. It’s hot. Why not celebrate the female form? Especially when, at least in this movie, there are equal amounts of male flesh on display.

Sarah: That’s true, it’s definitely an equal opportunity eye candy orgy.

Diana: I did like her more than what’s-her-name. The bookish yet dumb-as-dirt librarian. I didn’t understand why Brendan Fraser would like her. I just found myself comparing this mentally to the Mummy movies. Couldn’t help it. I thought it stood up to them.

Sarah: I liked Rachel, I think mostly because I like her as an actress. I like Kelly, too, but I expect more ass-kicking from her, given her previous credits. And yeah, you have to compare it to the Mummy stuff. I’m just glad they didn’t use so much stupid-looking CG shit. I did, however, get a little sick of all the stock characters. I mean, not that I expect Merchant-Ivory style acting here, but the bad guy could have been so much…badder.

Diana: Yeah, the villain was just a guy who wanted to be Desert Warlord dude. And Peter Facinelli (the villain from Supernova) just stood around eating fruit and asking dumb questions.

Sarah: Facinelli! Fuck, whenever I see him I just think of Can’t Hardly Wait. It takes me out of The Moment.

Diana: See, this is why I never go near those Gen-Y flicks…

Sarah: Whatever — Can’t Hardly Wait is great. If not for the Jennifer Love factor, it would be a perfect movie. I mean, Fake Hip-Hop Seth Green carrying around the Pocket Kama Sutra? What more could you ask for?

Diana: Not my cup of tea at all. Well, I liked the horse thief, he worked for me. The real disappointment was Michael Clarke Duncan. I only have seen him in Green Mile, where he rules, so I don’t understand why he was so terrible in this. Besides the weak material written for Balthazar.

Sarah: Yeah, I think bad writing gets the most blame. “I’m mean! I have scars on my face! Oh, wait…never mind. I love The Rock. Go, The Rock!”

Diana: That was a funny fight. Lots of guys in the audience really getting into it. “Ugh! Oohhhh! Maaaan!” Speaking of choice scenes, I loved the sequence when they get to Gomorrah, the whole chase the kid for the ruby, find the villain, have a clear shot, but have to save the kid instead. That was the turning point for the character, I thought — that’s when he went from being a mercenary with a blood oath to being a hero.

Sarah: Yeah, I can buy into all that stuff. I mean, the parts of the movie that worked best for me were the all-out, over-the-top, cheesy parts, like The Rock’s entrance. But some of it was a little too generic, like they could have gotten even deeper into the cheese. More, more! The fight scenes for instance — yawn. Lift someone over your head and spin them around and shit, Rock!

Diana: LOL. I bet they were afraid it would get too WWF-y. I was thinking of that muddy direction on Gladiator — I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was going on. But here I could follow the action more. So maybe simple worked for me.

Sarah: It was produced for Vince McMahon, for chrissake. I am with you in that “simple” definitely works best for The Rock. I just felt like the fights could have been more exciting, you know? Even the Seven of Nine/Rock fights in that episode of Voyager were cooler.

Diana: The final act set piece was great though. I thought it was cool how the sorceress’ vision of Mathayus’ death was coming to pass, but in fact, it was her involvement — her need to take the bullet, so to speak — that sets it up. But you only notice that if you’re a geek paying real close attention — a real director could have really made something of that moment.

Sarah: Speaking of the ending, it just screams sequel, no?

Diana: Oh, yes. Well, we have to see how he goes from being a fair, just ruler, to someone desperate enough to sell his soul to Annubis. (Can you tell I just love this pseudo-Egyptian shit?)

Sarah: I’m wondering if they’ll want to show him selling his soul and all that. I mean, we know it happens, but does anyone really want to see The Rock lose?

Diana: It’s definitely darker. They’ll have to write some kind of Vader-redemption stuff in there, but are they smart enough to do it?

Sarah: No. It’ll be more like, “Epilogue: so The Rock sold his soul or whatever, but he really didn’t mean it, and then he was reunited with Kelly Hu in the Celestial Pyramid, and everything was OK, and even Brendan Fraser said so.”

Diana: Maybe they’ll develop Queen Isis. I have a comic book of hers from like 1973, so when they said her name I was like, “Oooh! Isis!”

Sarah: Totally, they should have more Queen Isis and woman warrior and stuff in the next one (give Lucy Lawless a part!). And I’m jealous that you have that comic book!

Diana: I should really dig it up. It’s sooo beat up. But somehow, I’ve carried through life with me. Hmm, Lucy Lawless — maybe she should be a queen, but a fighting queen of course, who is at first against the SK’s kingdom, then has to fight with him. Course that brings up the villain problem again — there’s no threat hanging over these folks like Vosloo/The Mummy. That dude just doesn’t stop!

Sarah: I know. Do we ever think that smarmy ol’ I Stop Arrows with My Hands is gonna come back from the beyond? No.

Diana: Yeah that was a major misstep. How are they going to build a franchise without a recurring villain? There’s enough real lore to come up with that fake Egyptian stuff for the next two films. But they seriously have to get a good script for that.

Sarah: Or at least a script with more snakes!

Diana: So, hey, where were all the scorpions? OK, so he got the venom in him, but…nah, that doesn’t work. The movie is called The Scorpion King. How comes he’s not fighting him off tooth and nail? They wasted time with those fire ants (which did look CG-dumb). A wasted opportunity. But all in all it was a good flick — what I expected, fun, and great Rock. And today I get to see him on that Jules Asner show.

Sarah: Revealed? Haven’t seen it, I’m a True Hollywood Story kinda gal. Anyway, I thought it was a decent popcorn flick, but felt they made a few big missteps. It falls short of being a perfect guilty pleasure. But The Rock? I’m with the MCD character — go, The Rock!

Diana: Agreed. Now, we wait…for the sequel!

Sarah: Scorpion King II: Electric Boogaloo. (Apologies to all as I make The Oldest Sequel Joke Known to Man.)

Diana: Scorpion King II: Revenge of the Breast Implants.

Sarah: Perfect. Cut and print!