Potent sting in Scorpion King

LOUIS B. HOBSON

, Last Updated: 2:36 PM ET

Last summer in The Mummy Returns, the film's hero had to do battle with an evil monster known as the Scorpion King.

Although he was one of the villains of The Mummy Returns, Scorpion was a such a hit with audiences that he earned his own movie.

The Scorpion King, opening in town today, is a prequel of sorts to the Mummy movies, but it really has more in common with such sword, sorcery and sandal flicks as Conan the Barbarian, Hercules Unchained or The Last Days of Pompeii.

It's a vehicle to showcase the physical presence and prowess of World Wrestling Federation superstar the Rock.

There's no question the Rock, who has a shot at being the next big action movie hero, is on a roll.

With The Scorpion King he proves he's as electrifyingly entertaining on the screen as he is in the ring. He's got charisma to spare and confidence to match his muscles.

He is the successor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme. To his inestimable advantage, English is not the Rock's second language - unless you consider his penchant for grunting, yelling, growling and groaning languages. He perfected those skills for the WWF long before he started winding his tongue around scripted dialogue, but he trots them out aplenty for The Scorpion King.

In The Scorpion King, the Rock plays Mathayus, one of the last of a legendary society of mercenaries known as Akkadians.

Ancient Egypt needs Mathayus because the warlord Memnon (Steven Brand) has proclaimed himself supreme ruler of the world. To prove his point, Memnon either conquers and assimilates other tribes or simply wipes them out. Memnon's might is aided mightily by the sorceress Cassandra (Kelly Hu), who can foresee the future and thus guide her master's hand.

Director Chuck Russell treats The Scorpion King like a revved-up episode of the Kevin Sorbo Hercules TV series with a definite touch of Indiana Jones-style winking humour. The dialogue and love story are simply bridges between the fights and battles, which are slick and believable without being overly brutal.

The Rock handles it all as if this was what he was born to do.

He's surrounded by some great character actors, sexy women, muscle men and comedians.

One of the film's most impressive special effects has to do with Hu's skimpy costumes that have this remarkable ability to reveal only as much flesh as is sanctioned for a 14A rating.

Brand makes a suitably deplorable villain, as does Peter Facinelli as the smarmy double-crossing Prince Takmet. Grant Heslov is hilarious as Mathayus's motor-mouthed sidekick Arpid and Bernard Hill brings some comic gravity to his role as the scientist Philos, who is experimenting with gunpowder.

As the barbarian lord Balthazar who challenges Mathayus to the film's most physical duel, Michael Clarke Duncan looks and acts suspiciously like one of the Rock's wrestling nemeses.

The Scorpion King is popcorn cinema at its best.

It aims simply to entertain and does so with as much fanfare and as few distractions as possible. (More on: The Scorpion King).

(This film is rated AA)


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