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Granted, “The Scorpion King” with The Rock was no masterpiece; it was a mildly entertaining movie that was probably too generic for its own good, but it’s hard to argue that the film, directed by Chuck Russell, did what it did very well. And yeah, having a barely dressed Kelly Hu slinking around onscreen didn’t hurt, either. But Holy Mother of God, compared to “The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior”, the 2002 movie shines like the sun. To say that “Rise of a Warrior” is a poorly made effort would be like saying Michael Jackson is weird. “Warrior” suffers badly from badly miscast leads, not to mention the notoriously hit-and-miss Russell Mulcahy (“Resident Evil: Extinction”) has once again added an extra notch into the “miss” category.
“Rise of a Warrior” is, of course, a sequel (or actually, it’s a prequel) to The Rock’s 2002 movie “The Scorpion King”, which was already itself a prequel to “The Mummy Returns”. “Rise of a Warrior” goes even further back into the life and times of Mathayus, the man who would eventually become The Scorpion King. So actually, this is a prequel to a prequel. Yes, that really is your mind blowing right about now. In “Rise of a Warrior” (originally titled “Rise of the Akkadian”, but I guess that was too “inside baseball”), we are told the true origins of Mathayus (Michael Copon) as well as the whole Scorpion hullabaloo. In fact, the film has so many instances of scorpion this and scorpion that that it starts to sound ridiculous after a while. Yeah, we get it, this is the prequel to a prequel about that Scorpion King guy who showed up in “The Mummy Returns” for like five minutes.
Former Ultimate Fighting guy Randy Couture plays a muscle-bound douche bag that kills Mathayus’ dear old dad because he’s jealous of the other man’s fame. As part one of his plan for revenge (I’m assuming there are other parts, but I could be wrong), young Mathayus joins up with the empire’s Black Scorpions, their elite fighting force. Of course, revenge gets a bit complicated when Mathayus returns home from a successful training camp – er, I mean, brutal training regime in the desert for six years, as seen via a minute long montage sequence – only to find that Sargon (Couture) is now king of the empire, having bumped off the previous, benevolent king. Sargon, we come to learn, really likes bumping people off in the middle of the night using, of course, scorpions. Plus, he’s also into black magic, which allows him to stop spears in mid-air and other groovy nonsense.
The first thing that comes to mind is, “What exactly is the audience for this movie?” Are the filmmakers trying to sell it to teens? Is that way everyone is in their early ‘20s – aka why does Mathayus look like he should be finishing high school gym and not wearing a sword scabbard and faux black armor? Or are they trying to sell DVDs to fans of mixed-martial arts fighting, including the UFC fanbase? Is that why Randy Couture is playing a villain, despite barely being able to deliver more than two lines of dialogue in a row without eliciting laughter? Look folks, I’m being completely honest with you here. Couture is not an actor. Every time the guy had to walk and deliver dialogue at the same time, I was afraid he would trip. You’re liable to chuckle everytime Sargon pops up onscreen to grit his teeth and act all evil and such. So what have we learned here? Wrestlers make decent actors. Mixed-Martial Arts guys, not so much.
It’s not as if “Rise of a Warrior” couldn’t still have been a guilty pleasure. A dirty, filthy, shower-worthy guilty pleasure. The action is restricted by a PG-13 rating (again, who are they selling this movie to, the teen crowd?), and the script by Randall McCormic (“Speed 2”, “Titan AE”) makes the “Mummy” films look like great works of literature by comparison. The laughable Sargon aside, the film also throws in one of those completely anachronistic liberated female characters played by Karen David that is supposed to make things more fun, but will probably make you groan each time she utters her Grrrrl Power dialogue. There are also plenty of silly fantastical moments that come out of nowhere, and makes little to no sense. Yes, I am fully aware I have just made that last statement while reviewing an installment of a movie franchise that involves dead mummies coming back to life to take over the world. I still stand by my statement.
Perhaps the most galling thing about “Rise of a Warrior” isn’t that it’s lackluster – you expect these direct-to-DVD sequels to be wanting, otherwise they wouldn’t have been relegated to DVD shelves – but that it seems to have a pretty decent budget to work with. You have to wonder what the filmmakers could have done with a better script, a better cast, and a director who isn’t so hit and miss as to be infuriating. The film is not a complete lost, though. Simon Quarterman as the movie’s prerequisite literate character is fun and engaging, and a half-naked sorceress shows up halfway into the film to liven things up a bit. She’s no Kelly Hu by a long shot, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?
“The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior” is released on DVD August 19, 2008. Fans of direct-to-DVD prequel to prequels rejoice.
Russell Mulcahy (director) / Randall McCormick (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Copon … Mathayus
Karen David … Layla
Randy Couture … Sargon
Pierre Marais … Young Mathayus
Simon Quarterman … Ari
Chase Agulhas … Noah