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The Scorpion King

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Movies don't come much more critic-proof than The Scorpion King, a demographically savvy blockbuster that relies on critical praise in much the same way professional wrestlers rely on the strict dictates of referees and rulebooks. A spin-off of the enormously successful Mummy series, the movie reportedly came into existence when executives were blown away by The Rock's performance in The Mummy Returns, and decided he warranted his own vehicle. It's difficult to see exactly what was so impressive about The Rock's tiny, computer-assisted cameo in Returns, but it's much easier to see what executives saw in the wrestling superstar himself. With his hulking physique, outsized charisma, and Arnold-meets-Elvis persona, The Rock is a natural for big-budget popcorn fare, and if The Scorpion King was designed as a test of his screen presence, it succeeds easily. Reprising his role from Returns, The Rock plays a feared, ancient Egyptian mercenary whose partners are killed by a cruel leader (Steven Brand) reliant on the supernatural powers of foxy psychic Kelly Hu. Accompanied by a ragtag group of comical sidekicks, The Rock seeks to bring down Brand by killing Hu, but after Hu saves him from certain death, he changes his plans and takes her hostage while planning his next attack on Brand. The Mummy movies have been criticized for their antiquated stereotypes, and almost as if to answer those objections, The Scorpion King inverts the racial make-up of its predecessors, making its heroes non-white and its villains ostentatiously British and American. Otherwise, The Scorpion King is pretty much exactly what it promises to be: big, dumb, old-fashioned, and a fair amount of fun. Like Mummy director Stephen Sommers (who produced and co-wrote the script), King director Chuck Russell is less interested in subverting old genres than in polishing them up with state-of-the-art technology. Consequently, The Scorpion King looks and feels like both Mummy movies, although at a brisk 90 minutes, it never wears out its welcome like they did. The first chest-beating blockbuster wannabe of the season, The Scorpion King is prototypical summer-movie fare, designed to be consumed, enjoyed, and forgotten all at once.