Spin-off movies are risky ventures — for every Leon there’s an Ewok Adventure. And The Scorpion King, Universal’s off-shoot of the Mummy franchise, is perhaps riskier than most, since it takes a relatively minor character from The Mummy Returns, then strips him of the special effects which made those movies so enjoyable and him so memorable (though not for the best of reasons).
In that box office-guzzling sequel, WWF star and (eek!) bestselling author Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played a half-man, half-scorpion beast which turned up late but stole the show (even if director Stephen Sommers berated the efforts of ILM in this very magazine). Now, the future of one of Universal’s most successful franchises has been put in the giant mitts of a professional wrestler and the uncertain hands of director Chuck Russell, whose last effort was Bless The Child.
Although the opening sequence, in which Mathayus rescues his brother from what look like aggrieved extras from Xena: Warrior Princess, bodes well, the rest of the film never matches it, despite eye candy in the shape of Hawaiian hottie Kelly Hu, and an impressive but under-used Michael Clarke Duncan. Perhaps this bit stands out because, rumour has it, Universal brought in Sommers to film something exciting.
Russell instead delivers a straightforward barbarian fight-fest with a fraction of the appeal of The Mummy Returns — and barely a scorpion or a special effect in sight. Besides, any movie too lazy to name a ‘Comedic Sidekick’ who has almost as many lines as the lead deserves universal scorn.