Friday, February 6, 2009

Sting, Stunk, Stank

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior

I. Fucking. Hated. This. Movie. Scorpie Deux is a sequel to a spin-off of a sequel of a remake. It’s the sequel to The Scorpion King which was a spin-off from The Mummy Returns (2001) which was a sequel to The Mummy (1999) which was a remake of 1932’s The Mummy. (Makes your head spin, don’t it. Sit down, have some water if you need it.)

It’s your standard boilerplate plot: a guy out for revenge against the a-hole who killed his father and brother. There’s really not a lot more going on than that. Our hero, Mathayus the Akkadian (played by The Rock in the previous films, now played by Michael Copon) must steal the Sword of Damocles from the Underworld in order to kill the traitorous Douchebag King Sargon (Randy Couture). To do this, Mathayus collects a rag tag group along the way; they include Layla (Karen David) his childhood friend, Aristophanes the poet (Simon Quartermain), Fong (Tom Wu) a Chinese guy, and four other dudes.

The young leads all looked, acted and sounded like castoffs from The CW. They could have called this movie Egyptian Hills 90210. Michael Copon, who looks NOTHING like The Rock by the way, has two expressions, a smile and a frown - so much for trying to capture The Rock’s lively and engaging personality. Randy Couture, he of mixed martial arts fame, is particularly terrible as Sargon. His line readings are largely flat. He’s a big dude, but if you close your eyes his voice doesn’t sound threatening, just monotonous. Couture’d be great as a thug or mobster in a contemporary flick, but he just doesn’t fit here (Randy, call Jason Statham, ASAP.). Couture smells of the worst kind of product placement – his name alone will get the 15 to 24 year old male to rent this sucker. Simon Quartermain seems to have watched the film A Knight’s Tale a lot. That’s the only reason I can conceive as to why his Aristophanes comes across as a watered-down version of Paul Bettany’s Chaucer from that film. Karen David’s Layla has no appeal. She’s certainly not ugly, but there are far more pretty girls that could have been cast in the role. She’s not terribly athletic, although she did okay in that area, but she has such a generic personality about her. She’s altogether nothing special, which really sums up this movie.

The simple time worn revenge plot was PADDED out endlessly. It’s a quest movie, so to get to where they need to be, everyone has to slowly, and I mean s-l-o-w-l-y, walk down several corridors, passageways, and swampy foot paths. When they enter the Labyrinth of the Minotaur in Knossos, Mathayus and Layla literally inch along the pathways. This being a low budg movie, I’m betting they only built about 12 feet of corridor for any given scene. That’s why they all take baby steps. This movie has a good 25 minutes of nothing but people leisurely walking somewhere, which does not bode well for an action film!

Let’s look at a couple examples of how this movie is so inept. Mathayus and his three remaining friends end up in the lair of Astarte, Queen of the Dead/Postmaster General. Mathayus, Ari and Fong split up to, yes, walk around a lot, and find the Sword of Damocles. Layla gets into a catfight with Astarte, which escalates into a sword fight. So what’s our hero doing while this is happening? Is he wrestling a giant snake? Is he struggling to find his way out of a death trap of poisonous spikes? Is he fighting off a gang of mummies? No, Mathayus is simply walking around doing nothing. He might as well be texting his buds.

In another example of how this movie has its head firmly up its ass, eight of them enter the Underworld swamp, but in one cut we suddenly see only six characters. Two of the guys just DISAPPEAR and we never see what happened to them and they are never referenced again! (In the deleted scenes, we see the fate of only one of the two missing dudes - he is pulled underwater by a ghostly apparition. The other guy, who knows?) This production wrote these two characters into their story, hired two actors, involved them in expensive and time consuming visual effects, then decided they really weren’t needed after all and just snipped them out of their movie.

How do I know this movie was made by idiots? Because when we get to the big confrontation between Mathayus and Sargon, Sargon turns into a big, invisible scorpion. Yes, friends, the big monster is INVISIBLE! This is perhaps the biggest cop out I have ever seen in a movie. If they knew what they were doing going in they could easily have cut back on the earlier CGI work (see the whole transporting them to the Underworld and the swamp scenes) to save up for a rousing finale. Hell, even building something like the giant ants in THEM, that classic 1950s bug movie, would have been preferable to wimping out as they obviously did here. And to make matters worse there’s a blooper in the scene: Mathayus is on his back when he stabs the scorpion off screen at top of picture. In a wide shot see the scorpion fall back off of Mathayus’s sword. When they cut back to the same angle of Mathayus on the floor, blood is still dripping from the top of the screen where the scorpion used to be. Oops.

This movie was an absolute CHORE to sit through. The fight scenes were poorly conceived, shot and edited - here’s how they went down: leap/kick off a wall or column, cut to new angle in slow motion, cut back to different angle at regular speed; lather, rinse and repeat OFTEN. I’ve seen playground fights by 4th graders that were more exciting than any in this movie. The CGI mattes to extend buildings and cities were fine, but anything requiring life and movement looked really bad and like something done on a Commodore 64.

Whatever this movie cost to make should have been donated to charity instead.


What happened to the Sword & Sorcery genre? I’m not talking about the Lord of the Rings-type fantasy genre, but Sword & Sorcery. Back in the day, we’d get Beastmaster (in the 80s it was shown so much on HBO that people said it stood for Hey, Beastmaster’s On!), The Sword and the Sorcerer, and of course Conan the Barbarian. Now there is a somewhat lurid quality to the S&S genre, which is part of its appeal. You have bare-chested warriors/barbarians roaming the land, sword in hand, brain in neutral. They’d encounter lusty women, and chaste virgins who wanted to be lusty women. They’d encounter good wizards and sorcerers and other practitioners of black magic. They’d fight rubber dragons, giant snakes, beasts and demons, and they’d face them with nothing but a sword and a loincloth. Both the first Conan film and The Sword and the Sorcerer were R-Rated affairs, with rolling heads and assorted bloody body parts and nudity on the part of the lusty women, but they could also be like the PG Beastmaster, which toned down the hacking of the body parts, but kept the nudity on the chaste women (see the difference there?). There was always a sense of fun. You wanted to go on adventures with these barbarians. So what happened?

Well, in the early 1990s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its superior spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess changed all that when they brought Sword & Sorcery to weekly television. The bare-chested barbarians looked and acted more like ex-NFL quarterbacks. The lusty women were replaced with generic Baywatch beach bunny extras. Way to much early and cheap Computer Generated Imagery, which always looked like bad video game animation, did away with the cool looking giant rubber snakes and monsters. Crude hacking away of body parts was replaced by Hong Kong inspired Wire Fu. Out went the lurid quality, and out went a certain kind of fun.

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