Bull's eye

BRUCE KIRKLAND

, Last Updated: 2:36 PM ET

With his chiselled physique, sanguine presence and odd screen charisma, The Rock has sting in The Scorpion King.

The sword-and-sorcery movie is a spinoff from The Mummy Returns, in which superstar wrestler Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson played a cursed, mutant man-creature resurrected from the undead.

In The Scorpion King, set 5,000 years ago, we see the rise of the character from trained assassin to enlightened warrior king, a glorious hero of the free peoples of the ancient world in the Middle East.

The connection between the two movies is pretty tenuous, at least as written by Stephen Sommers (who made the two Mummy movies), Jonathan Hales, William Osborne and Toronto screenwriter David Hayter.

Their on-screen effort in The Scorpion King is, of course, a lot of nonsense for a lot of reasons. The filmmakers, led by veteran action director Chuck Russell (Eraser, The Mask), acknowledge the silliness by "winking" at the camera.

I mean that in the sense that they indulge us with juvenile comic asides, contemporary attitudes and characters and even some cheap and tawdry sexual imagery.

While nothing raunchy is shown, check out the parade of nearly naked, battle-ready babes, the harem and finally a sorceress heroine (Kelly Hu, a former Miss Teen USA ) who is dressed in leather thongs and gauze. This movie aims to please -- especially teenaged boys and wrestling fans.

The look of the movie is fabulous, partly for its exaggerated evocation of the ancient world, partly for its stylish fantasy elements and finally for its cast of thousands, most of them manufactured by the special-effects department but all of them looking good in the many epic battle sequences.

The result is that The Scorpion King is an absolute blast if you are not too fussy about reality or logic. There is also an extreme level of bone-crunching violence, although very little visible guts and gore. People die clean on screen.

Think Conan The Barbarian without Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is a good thing. The Rock is just as impressive in the physical-exploits arena -- working with a variety of weapons -- and far more appealing than Schwarzenegger in the personality department.

While I wouldn't call him an actor (his wrestling extravaganzas aside), The Rock is irresistible as a movie star, delivering his lines with more elan, and better articulation, than Arnie.

What he cannot do is kiss the girl (and Arnie's no better). The Rock looks all boyishly dumb while lip-locking and discreetly pressing flesh with the sensual Hu.

Every hero needs a good villain. The Rock has a hellishly good one in big-screen newcomer Steven Brand. With the usual menacing look, but showing more range than most stock villains, Brand plays Memnon, an evil warlord trying to enslave the world through brutal violence, a la Ghengis Khan.

Other key characters include the brash Nubian warlord (Michael Clarke Duncan), the comic sidekick Arpid (Grant Heslov, who was once devoured by rats on The X-Files) and the doddering inventor (Bernard Hill) who is working on a Chinese concoction that turns out to be gunpowder.

Led by The Rock, they rule in The Scorpion King. (More on: The Scorpion King).

(This film is rated AA)


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