In 2002, my father took me to see The Scorpion King because I loved wrestling and, in 2002, to a wrestling fan, there was no badder man on the face of the planet than The Rock. Had I known that The Scorpion King represented the beginning of the end of the Rock’s tenure in the WWE, I’m sure I would have felt differently, but The Scorpion King wass the sort of dumb, fun action movie I’m still cool with, where the action scenes are comprehensible and the one-liners aren’t too stupid. Believe me, though: replacing the Rock is an impossibility, a task so Herculean that even the mighty Vince McMahon, possessed of untold promotional genius, realized almost immediately the the only way to start down that particularly foolhardy road was to wait until the Rock’s disinterested, Clark Kentian double—Dwayne Johnson—was ready to descend from Witch Mountain, willing to speak about himself in the third person again. Sadly for Universal Pictures, Johnson will probably never return to the movie that made The Tooth Fairy possible, but, like Vince McMahon, they seem to have accepted that, turning the Mummy spin-off into a direct-to-DVD, Redbox-friendly franchise.
The Scorpion King 3: Battle For Redemption is somewhat successful in that sense, the sort of time-waster determined not to bore, but without the ambition necessary to rise above its station. The one-liners are piled-on, the sidekicks oafish, the villains flamboyant and/or borrowed from a video game franchise, and the ninjas plentiful; if Scorpion King 3 were dinner, it’d be prison meatloaf. Sure, it lacks the refinement of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol or the inventiveness of Attack the Block, but cabbage and ground chuck function perfectly well as a meal, no matter how horrible it ultimately tastes.
Some years after the first Scorpion King, Mathayus (Victor Webster) is a broken man. Due to unseen circumstances, his kingdom is smashed and his queen is dead. As the helpful narration has it, Mathayus lives for mercenary gold and a good way to die, which lands him in the employ of Horus (Ron Pearlman), a king whose brother Talus (Billy Zane) hunts for the Book of the Dead and a queen worthy of his libidinous lifestyle. That Pearlman and Zane, dressed respectively like a monarch in a community theatre version of Shakespeare and a Halloween pirate, are as Egyptian as Abraham Lincoln is unimportant, especially considering that the Book of the Dead (“Book of the Dead” often prefaced with “Egyptian”) appears to be under lock and key somewhere in the lush jungles of Asia. If Talus gets the book, he gains the ability to summon three warriors (Dave Bautista, Kimbo Slice, and Selina Lo) of untold power. In stopping them, Mathayus is joined by the Germanic barbarian Olaf (Bostin Christopher) and Silda (Krystal Vee), the object of Talus’ infatuation.
The plot, if you can call it that, is an endless series of double crossings and feigned double crossings. Mathayus and Olaf are working for Horus, then Talus, then they’re in it for themselves, and there’s a chance that the ghost warriors could turn on Talus as soon as they got tired of taking orders from a tacky pirate. None of Mathayus and Olaf’s schemings get beyond Mathayus insulting Olaf’s smell, but, as Adam West once said, criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot, and hearing Olaf’s choice responses to Mathayus (his best: “I smell delicious”) is worth putting off the ultimately underwhelming throwdown between Mathayus and Zane’s scenery-chewing Talus for. Olaf, in fact, does much of the film’s heavy lifting, bashing in heads, hugging dudes, and peeing on enough ninjas’ heads to keep things moving along.
Zane’s relentlessness is also a thing to behold. In a movie where ninjas join forces with a guy who becomes an insanely powerful mummy, his Talus is the only thing popping from the film’s immutable, all-pervasive blandness. He’s got his finger in a lot of dams, too: world domination, artifact hunting, ghost soldier commanding, Mathayus hunting, Silda seducing, and being a doer of acts most villainous. The fun Zane appeared to have making Scorpion King 3 is noticeable, but not quite viral. Victor Webster, wearing a hobo beard and hoping he looks enough like the Rock to pass as him from long distances, plays Mathayus as a bump on a log, and while Krystal Vee reminds him again and again that he’s battling for redemption, it becomes clear that too many people involved in the making of this movie were battling ennui.
And that’s the whole problem with Scorpion King 3, really. This is the third movie in a franchise spun-off to explain the origins of a bit villain from the second movie in another franchise. When The Mummy returned for another installment, it skipped out on Mathayus and the pyramids in favor of China and abominable snowmen. Granted, nobody was going to pick this up expecting something above mediocrity, something consistent and somehow significant to a franchise that’s liked enough, if not universally, but the hollowness of this particular effort really stands out. I went to a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant once, and wandering from table to table was a man who was hired to impersonate Forrest Gump. There was an airshow that day, so the poor guy had to talk a lot about how the planes reminded him of Vietnam, which, of course, is where he got shot in the buttocks. I realized, finishing my meal in the awkward silence between my group and Forrest, that there are few jobs worse than inhabiting a character created for somebody else. The sadness of celebrity impersonation permeates Scorpion King 3, and Billy Zane is powerless to save the film from the scruffy-headed impostor who, unfortunately for him, spends much of his time moping about how he used to be a legend. Victor Webster may be jacked and he may be tan and he may be wearing something similar to what the Rock wore in the original, but put the Rock’s words into his mouth and, as one would expect, the result is schoolyard imitation, not particularly inspired, even by a need for attention.
The Scorpion King 3: Battle For Redemption. Directed by Roel Reiné. With Victor Webster (Mathayus), Billy Zane (Talus), Bostin Christopher (Olaf), David Bautista (Argomael), Kimbo Slice (Zulu Kondo), Krystal Vee (Silda), and Ron Pearlman (Horus). Released January 17, 2012, by Universal Pictures.