It's not quite a prequel to The Mummy Returns. And it's certainly not a sequel. Perhaps the best term to describe The Scorpion King is `spin-off', given that it's set some 2,000 years before Imhotep even became a mummy. But, first and foremost, this prehistorical swashbuckler is a speeding star vehicle for six-time World Wrestling Federation champ The Rock, a man determined to jump that top rope and smash through to the big screen.
Recent cinematic history proves this isn't always the best move for sports-entertainment superstars. Jesse Ventura achieved little more than a bit-part in Predator, Andre The Giant was great in The Princess Bride but was basically playing himself, while Hulk Hogan wound up slumming it in embarrassing, straight-to-vid kiddie fare.
So what about the boy Rocky? Well, the role of Mathayus - a highly skilled assassin on a quest for vengeance against evil tyrant Memnon (Steven Brand) - doesn't expand much upon The Rock's established wrestling persona. But what The Rock does well, he does amazingly well. Crackling with charisma, he whups ass with flair and exhibits a mercury-quick wit. There are some love scenes - which he handles with surprising aplomb - but these are just a drop in the action ocean. Barely a sequence goes by without some kind of smackdown, hackdown, put-down or thwackdown.
But what were you expecting? The English bleedin' Patient? Mummy-creator Stephen Sommers produces and co-writes, while Eraser director Chuck Russell is at the helm, so there is never a question that this will be anything more, or less, than a campy, clout-and-out action romp. Given Sommers' involvement, it's an obviously derivative affair - blink and you'll miss `homages' to Indiana Jones, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Conan The Barbarian and, er, The Beastmaster. Yet beyond that, the fight scenes display admirable inventiveness, owing more to Jackie Chan and Crimson Pirate-era Burt Lancaster than Arnold Schwarzenegger or Slyvester Stallone.
The Rock displays an impressive versatility, avoiding the need to pull many moves out of his WWF locker (even though he does treat us to one near the movie's climax). Most of the combat involves flashing blades, zinging arrows or any handy prop The Rock can lay his hands on. And it's fun godammit, even if, beyond the fighting, we do have to put up with his lovable camel steed, his weaselly, quip-happy sidekick (Grant Heslov), a cute street urchin and Brand's stale Brit baddie.
The Scorpion King is aimed at anybody who likes their adventure uncomplicated and their battles by the barrel-load. Less Conan, more Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, it's cheerfully anachronistic and anachronistically cheerful. And it's certainly the most promising big-screen start a professional wrestler's had for, well, ever.
Sure to go down well with both WWF fans and Mummy-lovers, The Scorpion King is an undeniably enjoyable big-screen breakthrough for superstar grappler The Rock.