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Almost Famous

Director Cameron Crowe extends his autobiographical homage to 70s rock —Risë Keller (DVD review...)

Patrick Fugit is Almost Famous

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The movie industry has a tendency to throw money at the latest overnight sensation in hopes of cashing in at the box office. Britney Spears, Tom Green, The Spice Girls, Vanilla Ice... audiences can trace the history back as far as wrestling legend Hulk Hogan or The Beatles. But for every A Hard Day’s Night or South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, there are a handful of Spice Worlds and Mr. Nannys. The only question is which category Universal’s The Scorpion King — the action movie starring World Wrestling Federation Superstar The Rock (a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson) — will fall into. Will it follow in The Mummy Returns’ footsteps and go on to become one of the biggest hits of the summer, or will audiences decide that 90 minutes is just too much time to spend with “The People’s Champ?”

From King of the Ring to Just Plain King

Grease up the Scorpion KingIn The Scorpion King The Rock plays Mathayus, an Akkadian Assassin sent to kill a sorceress (Kelly Hu) who supplies an evil warlord named Memnon (Steven Brand) with his most valuable weapon — the ability to foresee the future. What seems like a routine assassination quickly goes bad, and Memnon kills Mathayus’ brother — the last living member of his family — before his very eyes. Vowing revenge, Mathayus and his troop of misfits work night and day to not only avenge his brother’s untimely death, but also save his original target, the sorceress who wants nothing more than to escape Memnon’s grasp herself.

Like the other movies in the Mummy franchise, The Scorpion King’s scenery alone could entertain audiences for the duration of the film. Luckily, The Rock takes on his starring role without much difficulty so that audiences won’t have to rely on gorgeous landscapes to keep them awake. Sure, the first 20 minutes of the film is littered with Schwarzenegger-esque one-liners and overly-emphasized lines. But once the heart of the story kicks in so does that charisma that The Rock’s not only known for, but also has earned millions of fans with.

Despite what viewers might have seen in the film’s trailers, The Rock’s performance isn’t nearly as poor as it comes across in 45 seconds. Although The Rock may only pull off the emotion needed to carry the film 75% of the time, that’s still 15% more than Brendan Fraser ever could.

Smackdown! Hits the Big-Screen

Furthermore, screenwriters Stephen Sommers (the director of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns), William Osborne and David Hayter smartly place the biggest and most aesthetically pleasing fight sequences in places where the script runs a bit dry on substance, making it almost impossible for viewers to take their eyes off of the screen. Though sometimes the action sequences go a bit too far — WWF fans will be able to easily spot a few wrestling moves that were snuck in — watching The Rock do what he does best is entertaining. Granted his ability to body slam someone probably won’t win him an Academy Award, but for this genre of films, his current acting and stunt abilities should carry him along just fine.

Although Sommers, Osborne and Hayter may know when to throw in that much-needed action sequence, they don’t know how to avoid an overly predictable plot. While The Scorpion King could have been an action-packed story about one man’s emotional journey from assassin to king, it simply follows every other unlikely hero’s tale. One could even go so far as to compare it to Shrek or Ice Age since the journeys are so similar. In fact, Mathayus even comes complete with a bumbling comic relief sidekick (Grant Heslov). Sure The Scorpion King is much more violent than the computer-animated tales and throws in a few scantily clad women (and men for that matter), but when viewers strip away everything that’s earned the film its PG-13 rating what lies underneath is just the same old movie.

Maybe it’s because the film’s lead character is a wrestler or maybe it’s because the executive producer is WWF owner Vince McMahon, but for whatever the reason, director Chuck Russell included some inside wrestling humor that should have landed on cutting room floor. While seeing The Rock do the people’s eyebrow in a harem of beautiful women may get a few laughs from his fans, it almost makes the film seem specifically targeted for those who know what the people’s eyebrow is. Additionally, by resorting to inside wrestling humor it’s almost like Russell forgot that wrestling fans are purchasing tickets to see The Rock play a character outside of the one viewers can watch from their homes every Thursday night. After all, why would they pay $9.50 to see him do the same thing they can see every week on Smackdown! for free?

Two Different Films?

Probably the most distracting element of The Scorpion King isn’t the script’s lack of originality or the inside industry jokes, but the film’s overall sudden change of pace. While its opening sequence sets viewers up for a wham-bam-no-thinking-required-type of action film — complete with a loud, hard rock soundtrack that seems horribly out of place given the desert scenery — a half-hour into the movie the story becomes much more serious and slow-paced. Though this change is for the better — not only is the horrible soundtrack gone but magically so is the bad acting — it happens so quickly that viewers will be thrown out of the story momentarily.

Sure, The Scorpion King isn’t the best film ever made. Its cast is mostly composed of relatively inexperienced young actors, some of the CGI effects make The Rock’s transformation at the end of The Mummy Returns look Oscar-worthy, and the story is nothing viewers haven’t seen before. But when all is said and done, The Scorpion King is far from being the next Suburban Commando. Although the story may not be anything original, the movie is a blast and The Rock definitely shows some promise as a leading action star. So long as viewers don’t dismiss the film simply based on its trailers, The Scorpion King could end up becoming an interesting franchise. For as WWF fans know, as great as The Rock is as a face he’s even better when he’s heel — and The Scorpion King could just be the beginning of something bigger and better for The Rock.