Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Underrated Movie #83: The Scorpion King

Day three of Cheesy Movies Week, featuring the most disreputable movie I’ve ever recommended on this site. Can I top it tomorrow? Surely not…
Title: The Scorpion King
Year: 2002
Director: Chuck Russell
Writers: Stephen Sommers, Jonathan Hales, William Osborne, David Hayter
Stars: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kelly Hu, Michael Clarke Duncan, Grant Heslov (yes, the co-writer of Good Night and Good Luck)

The Story: In times of yore, a charming mercenary rescues a sorceress and kills a tyrant.

How it Came to be Underrated: This movie had no right to be any good. It’s a prequel to a pretty bad movie, The Mummy 2, and it was the first starring role for a WWE wrestler, still acting under his ring name! But the reviews were surprisingly positive, so I gave it a shot, with very low expectations. I’ll be damned if I didn’t think it was the best sword and sorcery movie I’d ever seen. Every time I re-watch it, I expect to finally become embarrassed by it, but I love it more and more each time.

Why It’s Great Cheesy Fun:

  1. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, even the recent Mummy movies... What do they all have in common? Well let’s just come right out and say it: They were all pretty blatantly racist. The sword and sorcery genre has always had an unfortunate racist subtext, even on those rare occasions that they aren’t overtly racist. That’s why its so cool to see such a well-made movie that passes the heroic mantle on to people of color. This is the best Conan-type movie we’re ever going to get, but I don’t mind at all that it would have made Howard himself roll over in his grave.
  2. Of course the whole movie rests on the Rock’s shoulders and he turns out to be even more charismatic on the big screen than he was on TV. He swagger is like a cross between Burt Lancaster and Burt Reynolds. I declare him to be an honorary Burt! Here he is, buried up to his neck in an ant mount, crushing an ant with his chin. Tell me that isn’t bad ass.
  3. I simply love the nuts and bolts of this movie. Each scene and sequence is cleverly constructed, with its own set-up and pay-off. The Rock is in better fighting shape and more agile than Schwarzenegger ever was, but he finds, time after time, that he has to rely on cleverness, not brawn, to triumph over each mini-challenge. The sequence where he outwits his foes by luring them into a sirocco is simply stunning.
  4. One of the reasons why prequels always suck is because we know how they have to end, right? But that’s what I love most of all about this movie! This was supposed to tell the story of how the Rock became the titular monster who had menaced Brandan Fraser in The Mummy 2. But then, at the end of this movie, the Rock avoids that curse! Even Hu is shocked. She reminds him that he’s destined to end up cursed, but he just cocks his trademark smirk and assures her: “Then let’s make our own destiny.” What a great testimony to free will! The hero not only triumphs over fate, he triumphs over continuity itself!

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Before I saw this my favorite sword-and sorcery movies were those made in the ‘60s by Ray Harryhausen: Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. They’re still a lot of fun today, but Harryhausen had a weakness for bland leading men, who failed to, shall we say, bring it.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD with a fun commentary.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Sentenced to the Vat!


Steve Bird said...

Never seen Scorpion King myself, but my favorite embarrassing sword & sorcery movie is Kevin Sorbo's Kull movie. Haven't seen it since my friend dragged me to the theater to see it, so it might not stand up to a second watching, though. My favorite part was Harvey Firestein as a shifty merchant who at one point utters the line "Oh, Kull, you know I hate the smell of fish." Yeah, they went there.

The same friend also dragged me to "Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight" which was surprisingly watchable thanks in large part to Billy Zane.

Matt Bird said...

I need to see Kull. I thought about covering "Demon Knight" this week, since I love it. Just one minute ago, I sent off a treatment to a producer. When I was writing the story I thought to myself, "Hmm, my villain is a lot like Billy Zane in Demon Knight-- that's good"

Christine Tyler said...

Ahaha, this is my mom's favorite movie. I always poked fun at her for it, but now that the cool kid on the playground says they like it, I'm finding a newfound respect for her XD