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Monday, April 26, 2002

Keith Keener's

Positive Movie Reviews

The Scorpion King

It's been done before ... but never better than this! Chuck Russell's magnificent new action film "The Scorpion King" keeps up a proud tradition of taking a minor character from a landmark work of art and then imagining a whole new story around him or her. The English playwrighter Tom Stoppard has made kind of a career of this, first with two characters from "Hamlet," whom he wrote as the stars of "Rosenbaum and Guildenstern Are Dead" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" He then did it again with the character Shylock, who he made the star of "I Cut, You Bleed," set in Crown Heights.

But Chuck Russell has the topper with this breathless and sweaty masterpiece, which takes the most captivating character from "The Mummy Returns" and turns him into the centerpiece of an action juggernaut that takes no prisoners, because it doesn't have time. In my review of "The Mummy, Part I" I argued that "this could be the beginning of an action series second to none." And when I reviewed "The Mummy Returns," I wrote that "the only way to top this gargantuan achievement of filmmaking would be to have a sequel that stars The Rock with some exotic Asian woman." Really, you can go back and check.

Of course, this wasn't likely. As everyone who watched the last Oscars knows, it is almost impossible for white actors to get good parts and to win Academy Awards these days. In fact and it breaks my heart to remember this The Rock, who trained with England's Royal Shakespeare Company, was reduced to doing professional wrestling on TV because he could not get a lead role after his performance as The Scorpion King in "The Mummy Returns." It was a tragedy, a degrading spectacle, to see one of the finest actors of this or any other generation running around a ring grappling with other musclebound men. I was so appalled that, immediately after I finished masturbating, I wrote a letter to The Rock's agent. "How can you allow this to happen?" was the basic point, as I recall, though I was kind of drunk at the time, having used a little too much Jaegermeister in that night's Keenerklapper. Recipe for Keenerklapper: one Old Milwaukee, two shots of Jaegermeister, a Li'l Debbie's Choco-Log, and just a squeeze of lime, then mix it up in a blender 'til smooth. Serve cold!

You know, I am thinking of changing my reviews to do more of this. To tell you about a great movie, but also to give you some great recipes at the same time. Sort of like on that great TBS (The Superstation) program, "Dinner and a Movie." Have you seen it? That's the one with the people showing a movie and also teaching you how to make something yummy like spaghetti with clam sauce. There is no more refreshing way for me to spend a Friday night than in my home in Eau Claire, alone except for the company of those lovable hosts. They always bring a smile to my smile to my face, right before I trip over an empty blender jar and a Pringle's can and pass out while struggling to get to the bathroom in time. OK, yes, sometimes I drink them straight out of the blender. Is that so wrong?

Anyway, The Rock's agent heeded my call, and The Rock is back where he should be: on the big screen. In "The Scorpion King," The Rock plays Mathayus, an ancient Acadian who dares to defy the evil Memnon (Stephen Brand) by killing his sorcerer, the source of Memnon's power. But the sorcerer turns out to be a beautiful woman (Kelly Hu) and The Rock spares her life to use her as bait to lure Memnon to his doom. The sorceress has the power to see episodes of "Xena Warrior Princess" that have not even aired yet, a crucial advantage for Memnon.

Along the way, The Rock teams up with a lovable and unpredictable bunch of misfits. There is a British man named Q who invents all sorts of kooky weapons like gunpowder. There is a Comedic Sidekick, who is named that in order to inform us that lines like "No one goes to the Valley of the Dead; that's why they call it the Valley of the Dead" are jokes. There is a ferocious but noble Nubian warrior (Michael Clarke Duncan, who unfortunately still bears several scars from his makeup job in "Planet of the Apes"). And Tom Cruise plays Takmet, a traitor who helps Memnon, in a performance credited to his "screen name," Peter Facinelli.

But the acting honors go to the three stars. Stephen Brand recognizes that even in year 4000 BC, villains were English, and he convincingly does the right accent. Kelly Hu is so beautiful and sexy that you might almost assume that that's what she's doing in the picture. The truth is that Asian actresses are too often cast as morally conflicted businesswomen or single women struggling to save their children; it is refreshing to see one finally get to play a sexpot who knows a thousand erotic secrets that white women will never understand. Oh, and she knows a little karate and dragon magic too. She's spellbinding in this role. And what can one say about The Rock, except that he takes a breathtakingly complex character and really fleshes him out. When he says, "I am the Scorpion King, I can do anything," you believe him.

"The Scorpion King" is only 88 minutes long, but it feels even tighter because roughly 85 of those minutes are fight scenes, filmed in Odorama. Each person in the theater is given a scratch-and-sniff card to scratch during each fight scene, with 27 different types of "The Rock Musk" available. In the final showdown, a half-naked Kelly Hu is protected by a shirtless, sweaty The Rock, surrounded by a fiery inferno. That was when the tissue packs and hand lotion came in handy for the 120 teenagers in the theater with me during today's matinee. Not me. I could wait for my Keenerklapper back at home.

Anyway, if the Academy is willing to open the door to white actors next year, I predict that next March, The Rock will absent-mindedly bend his Best Actor Oscar over his head while grunting his acceptance speech.

On a scale of four or five stars, I give "The Scorpion King" five stars.

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Earlier positive movie reviews can be found at home.earthlink.net/~dleheny