Ah, ancient Egypt, where the men are men and the camels are scared. A cross between Conan the Barbarian and Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Scorpion King doesn't have an archeological bone in its body. It's pure pop, but it sure knows how to fill the time between kernels of popcorn. And in The Rock it may have found a worthy successor to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not that the World Wrestling Federation star is asked to do much more than flex his muscles and raise his trademark eyebrow. But with a computer-generated sun glinting off his pecs, he fills out his loincloth nicely.
A prequel to The Mummy (loved it) and The Mummy Returns (hated it), The Scorpion King provides a Saturday-matinee potpourri: fistfights and swordfights, harems and scarabs, sandstorms and this army of red ants that can reduce a head to a skull in no time, especially if you're buried up to your neck in sand. The Rock, who studied at the Vince McMahon School of Acting, knows just what to do in that situation: furrow his brow and squish the ants with his chin, then crunch them with his teeth and spit them back out. Instead of a smackdown, a snackdown.
It's not like we haven't seen the up-to-the-neck-in-sand bit before, but director Charles Russell, who set Jim Carrey spinning in The Mask, has the good sense to pretend we haven't seen it before. Likewise, the plot seems freshly minted, despite its resemblance to every other action-adventure plot since the beginning of time. The Rock is an assassin sent to kill a sorceress (Kelly Hu) who works for an Egyptian warlord with a British accent (Steven Brand). Instead, he's captured. Then he escapes with the sorceress in tow. Then she escapes. Then he goes after her.
Russell preserves a PG-13 rating by giving us the sound but not the sight of swords piercing juicy flesh. There's almost no blood, although arrows are capable of knocking a man clear across the room, as if fired from a cannon. For all its heft, The Scorpion King remains light on its feet, sprinting toward the end as if it had something more important to do afterwards. Maybe that's why The Rock, when he meets the warlord for the last time, kills two birds with one stone by announcing, in a voice rich with self-parody, "I've come for the woman...and your head."