If memory serves, I liked the first “Scorpion King” back in 2002. Or, like-ish. Coming off two very successful “Mummy” films, the spin-off movie had the full backing of Universal Studios, including a studio-sized budget and featured a rising star in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. (You know, back when “The Rock” was still part of his moniker.) It also starred a gorgeous Kelly Hu wearing very little. Then again, maybe the fact that the first “Scorpion King” was so watchable was precisely because of Kelly Hu wearing very little throughout the movie. Hey, it certainly couldn’t have hurt. In any case, Universal didn’t revisit the franchise again until 2008, with the direct-to-DVD sequel/prequel “The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior”, which traced Johnson’s character back to when he was a wee teen/20ish. That movie, er, did not feature a barely clad Kelly Hu, and thus was not so watchable. 2011 bring us “The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption”, which features the third actor to portray the same character in as many movie.
“The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption”, as you’ve probably surmised by the title, is one seriously goofy movie. The film is a direct sequel to the first, with Mathayus (now played by Victor Webster), the assassin turned King, now just a lowly assassin-for-hire again. It seems that the ending of “The Scorpion King” was a tad optimistic, and ol Mathayus has fallen on hard times. His Queen (Kelly Hu’s character, seen in flashbacks, re: they re-used scenes from the first movie) has been killed, and he’s now just another schmuck looking for work. One such job finds Mathayus teaming up with a big oaf name Olaf (Bostin Christopher) to save some faraway Thai-ish Kingdom from the clutches of the evil Talus (“Titanic’s” Billy Zane). Talus happens to be the little bro of benevolent King Horus (“Hellboy’s” Ron Perlman), and the siblings, as siblings are wont to do, are engaged in that whole rivalry thing where they literally want to kill each other to rule the kingdom. Or some such silliness.
The thing to keep in mind about “The Scorpion King 3” is that it’s hilariously bad. So much so that it never ceases to become entertaining because it just keeps getting worse and worse. When you expect the film to finally even out and become just plain, unwatchable bad, it keeps getting worse and becomes even better. This is definitely one of those films that is so awful in every respects that you find yourself loving it anyway. I don’t know if that’s what director Roel Reiné (Universal’s currently go-to guy for their direct-to-DVD sequels, having directed the last two “Death Race” direct-to-DVD sequels) and his screenwriters intended, but that’s exactly the final product they’ve delivered.
To watch the cast go about their business (in particular Zane, Webster and Christopher), you get the impression that they know they’re doing mercenary work in a turkey. This is especially true of Perlman and Zane, who crack jokes and roll their eyes like seasoned pros doing community theater while boozed out of their minds. No doubt the free vacation in Thailand (the film’s main filming location) had a little something to do with the two men accepting the gig. Webster, of course, is getting his first big break as a leading man, but he rolls with the punches so well that I have to think even he knows this is one seriously awful movie. There are some fantastic interaction between Mathayus and Olaf, and you can imagine that it probably took the actors several takes not to crack up while spouting some of the Godawful (and at times incredibly inspired) dialogue. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that Bostin Christopher in particular ad-libbed a lot of his lines, because it really does feel like he’s a comedian on an episode of “Whose Line is it Anyway?”
“The Scorpion King 3″ is miles better than the last sequel, mostly because the film is just so much more fun to watch. Having genre pros like Zane and Perlman (but mostly Zane, as Perlman has what can generously be called a cameo) collecting paychecks while phoning their way through the production can’t possibly hurt. You certainly won’t be impressed by the film’s limited production values, and the battle scenes are howlingly awful. Then again, there’s something to be said for watching the 6’3” Webster battling Asian stunt guys (playing forest ninjas, no less) who go up to about, oh, his chest or thereabouts. In the film’s second half, Zane’s evil dictator-wannabe calls forth some demonic warriors to help fight the Scorpion King (including MMA fighter Kimbo Slice, wrestler Dave Bautista, and Selina Lo, vamping a “Mortal Kombat” character, it seems) using the franchise’s familiar Book of the Dead. Well, they have to connect this movie to the “Mummy” films somehow, I suppose.
If you’re not in the mood for some light-hearted, silly action-adventure romp, then “The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption” won’t come anywhere close to being your cup of tea. It’s not terribly well-made, the script borders on slapstick comedy, the editing is atrocious, and the action sequences are amateur hour. Still, you’ve got a couple of pretty game actors in Webster and Christopher trading ludicrous jokes, and delicious eye candy in Krystal Vee doesn’t hurt (her character goes through much of the movie wearing ridiculously revealing “battle” attire, including twin swords with pink-ish handles). Billy Zane’s zany performance as the bad guy is especially noteworthy. I don’t know if Zane’s line, “I will rise again like a bad idea” was his or in the script, but it had me nearly falling off my chair. That’s the kind of bad-tastic entertainment you can expect from “The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption”.
“The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption” arrives on DVD/Blu-ray January 10th, 2012 courtesy of Universal Studios.
Roel Reiné (director) / Brendan Cowles, Shane Kuhn (screenplay), Randall McCormick (story)
CAST: Victor Webster … Mathayus
Billy Zane … Talus
Bostin Christopher … Olaf
Dave Bautista … Argomael
Kevin ‘Kimbo Slice’ Ferguson … Zulu Kondo
Johann Helf … Hathor
Selina Lo … Tsukai
Krystal Vee … Silda
Geoffrey Giuliano … Sirius
Ron Perlman … Horus