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September 14, 2008

Movie Review – Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008)

by Master Pillow

What are the three most damning words ever to be uttered about a movie? Simply put: “Straight to video.” In other words, “This movie is just so bad we don’t want to lose more money than we have spent already on this turd so we’re going to just send it straight to the video store in a lame effort to recoup our costs.”

Someone once asked me if it was easier to write a movie review for a film that was really good or really bad to which I chuckled maniacally – I’d rather pen a review on an amazing cinematic experience but every now and then letting loose without abandon and care for profanities on a stinker has its pleasurable merits. Now, it is not that I am some sort of freak bad movie sadist that loves to rip apart a particular foul smelling film. Indeed, I very much doubt that anyone involved in making, distributing or producing these films really sets out to make a clunker but as many people have pondered one wonders just exactly when in the whole process do these film makers clue in to the fact that they are making the cinematic equivalent of cow manure.

Still, I am a forgiving sort and I’ll give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt and hope they all believed that even though they weren’t making a film of Citizen Kane stature that at the very least it would be one entertaining romp. In the case of this film, Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, it would seem that just about everyone involved must have been drinking one too many Romulan Ales causing them to either enter a state of extreme delusion or compel them to butt their heads into the nearest concrete wall.

Forget all you know, or think you know, about the Mummy Franchise or even the less than favorable prequel, The Scorpion King. Whatever faults those films had, and there were many, they were at least campy action fests with a plethora of comedic quips and touches that made everything feel lighthearted and good natured – perfect for families with young kids.

To watch Scorpion King 2: Rise of A Warrior one doesn’t really need to understand or know much about the Mummy franchise lore at all. In that respect it seems much more of a standalone movie even though it is supposed to chronicle the early life of Mathayus, the character made “famous” by former wrestler Dwayne Johnson in the aforementioned Scorpion King.

The Scorpion King 2 begins when Mathayus is a scrawny kid, training to gain entry into a group of elite warriors called the Black Scorpions led by Sargon, played by former UFC fighter Randy Couture. Mathayus’ father is supposedly “The Greatest Warrior” in the kingdom and vehemently opposes his son from following in his footsteps. However, in doing so, manages to piss off Sargon by making him lose face in front of the King and fellow troops. How do we know this?

Clue #1: Because Sargon says so.

Clue #2: His eyes suddenly turn black as night.

Result #1: No one seems to notice or care at all.

Result #2: Sargon takes his revenge during the night by turning into a giant black cloud of gas and enters young Mathayus’ house to lay scorpions on top of his sleeping father, who, did I mention, was supposed to be “The Greatest Warrior” of his time?

Suffice it to say his father dies and young Mathayus vows revenge on Sargon. He joins the elite Black Scorpions and leaves for years of vigorous training and within minutes (your ubiquitous montage sequence) we flash forward in time whereupon he returns in the buff form of actor Michael Copon who seems more suited for an episode of Gossip Girl than gladiatorial combat. It is also “surprising” to note that all that hard training resulted in shining abs with nary a scar, bump, bruise or any sort of evidence of physical hardship he was supposed to have gone through.

Smirking for no apparent reason at his return to his hometown, Mathayus suddenly finds that the previous king has been killed and GASP, Sargon is the new ruler. Who didn’t see that plot twist coming? Sargon immediately senses potential in Mathayus, noted by how he glowers at him longer than the other recruits, and invites him to his inner chamber to join his personal guard. However, Mathayus rebels and escapes whereupon he undertakes a grand quest to journey to the underworld to retrieve the sword of Damocles that can defeat Sargon.

Along the way he is joined by Layla (Karen David), a sassy lass plucked from the valley mall whose only purpose is to jiggle in her skimpy outfit while striking combat poses and Ari (Simon Quartermain) the always needed academic sidekick who comes replete with bad one-liners and a British accent to, you know, accentuate his intellectual prowess.

With such a colourful troupe of characters how could the film go so wrong?

Let’s just say Citizen Kane has been dethroned as the greatest movie of all time!

Maybe not…..

The most exasperating element in the Scorpion King 2 is one of wasted potential. Yes, I know I’ve already made it sound absurd but the film doesn’t even live up to its modest billing.  Take for example the casting of former UFC fighter Randy Couture.  By that alone one hopes that, at the very least, they can watch him kick some mixed-martial arts ass but those hopes are instantly dashed as he is so misused here and even as the film builds to a climactic fight the film makers pull the rug out from under the audience and make his character Sargon turn into a computer generated scorpion instead of letting him go mano a mano with Mathayus.  That might sound cool to some but whatever effects budget the film makers had must have only been enough to pay for someone to growl and hiss into a microphone since we never see the blasted scorpion, who, by the way, has the absolutely worse aim in history as it does nothing but chip away at Doric columns and furniture as Mathyus preens and poses to the invisible threat.

Whenever you get a glimmer of hope that something cool or innovative might be revealed all is lost when the film falls flat on its face with nary an imaginative idea or set piece.  There’s a scene involving a minataur chase in a dungeon that devolves into running around in circles on the same corridor stage set or the famed journey to the underworld that is nothing more than a Sunday picnic through yet another twisted decaying forest.  Characters who appear to be smart suddenly get the attack of the stupids, sometimes on more than one occasion.  If someone says to not wander off or else you’ll get lost and die you can bet more than one person will take it upon themselves to do so resulting in, you guessed it, their death.

Yes, we don’t expect Shakespeare in a series like the Scorpion King or the Mummy but common sense and logical plotting still are mandatory and though the situations our heroes get themselves into are fantastical in nature it doesn’t mean all sense is jettisoned.  Late in the film our heroes meet Astarte (Natalie Becker) the Queen of Eroticism….I mean the Queen of the Underworld who presumably has God-like powers.  She begins to get attracted to Mathayus which causes Layla to go into a cat-like jealous rampage as she defends her claim to her man and challenges Astarte to a dagger duel.  I’m sorry, if you are confronted with the God Queen of the Underworld who can probably vaporize you with a glance are you really going to accuse her of stealing your man and then engage in a butter knife fight?  So the two fight in their skimpy clothing for a good five minutes or so until Astarte just uses magic and encases Layla in a badly computer generated tornado.  Bottom line: they only joust to show their ample female bodies gyrating with no nod to plot at all.

And what about Sargon’s “real” plan to sacrifice all the townspeople by luring them into the coliseum and letting them watch a completely ridiculous science experiment with oil replete with what look like medieval beakers and test tubes taking place on the stadium floor?  I don’t think I am ruining the story for anyone when I say that Sargon intends to spray oil on the townspeople thus setting them on fire as a sacrifice to a God.  Too bad the archers he employed to set them aflame couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, not to mention, take like ten minutes to reload arrows.

Suffice it to say, the movie is just one ridiculous event followed by an even more ludicrous one.  There’s zero tension built up coupled with even less humor to keep one entertained.  Whatever jokes or quibbles are attempted fall vaingloriously flat or are ill delivered and lead to many a groan from the audience.

The fighting or action sequences shown are handled even worse, which boggles the mind as the director, Russell Mulcahy, previously made action-heavy films such as Highlander and Resident Evil Apocalypse.  Blame it on a shoestring budget or dementia if you will but the action is shot so haphazardly one wonders if pods had possessed Mulcahy because the sequences have no flow or form to them.  Yes, it is obvious none of these actors can swing a sword in real life but things get really bad when all they do is preen and strike a pose – if I want to see that I can go buy Vogue magazine rather than watch this drivel.

So, the movie has no redeemable humor, action, plot, special effects or dialogue.  What does it have?  Half naked men and even more naked women.  If the movie only has that going for it wouldn’t viewers rather just go buy Sport’s Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition or, you know, get porn?

Avoid at all costs.

ZERO out of ****

2008, USA, 109 Minutes, Universal
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Screenplay by Randall McCormick
Based on Characters created by Stephen Sommers
Produced by Stephen Sommers, Jörg Westerkamp, David Wicht
Art Direction: Jonathan Hely-Hutchinson
Original Music: Klaus Badelt
Cinematography: Glynn Speeckaert
Film Editing: John Gilbert

Mathayus: Michael Copon
Layla: Karen Shenaz David
Ari: Simon Quarterman
Fong: Tom Wu
Pollux: Andreas Wisniewski
Sargon: Randy Couture
Astarte: Natalie Becker

© 2008 The Galactic Pillow

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