The Guillotine header


Welcome to my choppin' block. From time to time, by axe or guillotine-blade, I’ll be offerin' up reviews of  Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films, past to present. Some will get off with only a haircut or a close-shave. Others… Well, we’ll be geekin' quite a few necks and fillin' plenty o' baskets…

Here's how my gradin' system works, so pay attention:

5 axes - Excellent. Top-notch stuff. Nominated for the Henchmen’s Golden Hood Award.

4 axes - Good. Something worth seein' a few times over. Kudos.

3 axes - Average. Worthwhile, but let's not see any sequels, O.K.?

2 axes - Fair. Gettin' close to schlock. Not too bad if yer in need of an insomnia cure.

1 axe - Poor. I'm greasin' up the guillotine for this stink-fest…

Off With Its Head! - Need I say more? 

Couple more items: I am The Headsman, and on the choppin' block - I am God. Nobody tells me jack on how to run my Guillotine. Not Dr. Mordred, not even those Plutonian Shore whelps. I am a bad man, but I run a clean gallows. Anybody out there want me to review a film for them? Tough. I don't do requests. This section ain't for the weak of heart, so you've been warned. If you got a spine, then get in line - and enjoy The Guillotine.

Anybody out there got a problem with the Headsman and his reviews can send yer complaints to:

Or you call The Headsman's Complaint Hotline at: (666) 555-WANK ext. 86

Ask for Ms. Direxion.

In The Mouth Of Madness  
1995/New Line/Rated R/95 minutes


Lived any good books lately? The godfather of modern horror John Carpenter really delivers In The Mouth Of Madness, starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, John Carpenter's Memoirs Of The Invisible Man, The Hunt For Red October, Restoration), Julie Carmen (Fright Night II), and Jurgen Prochnow (The English Patient, The Keep, Dune, The Seventh Sign, A Dry White Season, Das Boot).

Inspired by the classic tales of H.P. Lovecraft, this movie follows insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neil) on the trail of missing best-selling horror novelist Sutter Caine (Jurgen Prochow). Trent believes the writer's disappearance has been staged by Caine's publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) to boost already-soaring book sales. The missing author's latest novel is literally driving its readers insane; another publicity gag, according to Trent. Accompanied by Caine's editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent is led to a town that only exists in Caine's books…that's when the real terror begins. Trent's convictions of what is fact and what is fiction begin to crumble as he realizes the end of the world is the final chapter in Sutter Caine's novel.

It can be argued that this film - along with the likes of Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, and Escape From New York - is Carpenter's finest work. He is the first to effectively capture the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft for film, which ain't no easy task. While other great - if not notable - H.P. Lovecraft-inspired films have been made (The Haunted Palace, Reanimator, Bride Of The Reanimator, From Beyond, Necronomicon: Book Of The Dead, The Ressurected), this movie stands out above them all, because it centers on the ever-rationalizing hero - and his eventual hopelessness when his own reality comes crashing down on him. This is a common theme in many H.P. Lovecraft stories, and thanks to Carpenter and a marvelous tour-de-force performance by Sam Neill, we get to watch the world of a strong-willed cynical man who's "always looking for the con" turn to terror and dread.

This is a damn good horror movie. More than a horror film, it's an "apocalyptic" film, which - if done right - is the most terrifying kind of horror film. Carpenter knows this formula well, and he exemplifies it to the nth degree in this movie. His other two "apocalyptic" films (forming an unofficial trilogy) are The Prince Of Darkness (1987) and The Thing (1982). The pacing and storytelling of this film are pure Carpenter as he grabs your attention with the first frame. It's clear that Carpenter gave this film detailed attention, and he did his homework (as he always does). Gary B. Kibbe's beautiful cinematography complements Carpenter's story-weaving. The lighting alone in some scenes is enough to bring on the chills. Kibbe is a pro and there are few that rival his work in the field today. This flick is a fun thrill ride; full of suspense and wit. It also has plenty of Lovecraftian "inside-jokes" that many fans of Lovecraft will be sure to spot and get a kick out of.

A strong cast did not hurt this film either, with a supporting cast that includes John Glover (Gremlins II: The New Batch, Scrooged, and the voice of the Riddler in the Batman animated series), Bernie Casey (Never Say Never), the distinguished and always-great Charlton Heston (Planet Of The Apes, Omega Man, Solent Green), and veteran Carpenter player - and one of my personal favorites - Peter Jason (Village Of The Damned, Prince Of Darkness, They Live, Escape From L.A.). ), David Warner (Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, Time Bandits, Time After Time), who is no stranger to Lovecraft-inspired films (look for him in Necronomicon: Book Of The Dead) makes a cool guest appearance as a psychiatrist charged with the uncomfortable task of interviewing Trent.

Another difficult task in bringing Lovecraft to the big screen is creating some of the Lovecraftian creatures that were known to lurk throughout the author's stories. Word to the maker of Lovecraftian films: rubber tentacles attached to piano wire, a green gel over a light or green jello does not a Lovecraft monster make. I've seen some really wanky creatures on screen in my time, but the really lame ones can be seen in some of those older Lovecraft -inspired flicks. We won't name any names here. I'm sure I'll have 'em on my choppin' block soon enough. In this movie, you won't find any monsters made out of old carpets or cheap rubber masks. With the aid of spectacular make-up and creature effects from Kurtzman, Nicotero & Berger EFX Group, Carpenter allows us only glimpses of these horrors; allowing our imaginations to do the rest. But, this is an effective tool that horror directors should use more often. As he did in The Thing, Carpenter makes good use of that tool. This film also features some spiffy visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic.

Then, there is the trademark Carpenter music score. What Carpenter film would be complete without it? As with all John Carpenter films, his music places yet another layer of fear and suspense over the films that he scores. Teaming up with Jim Lang, Carpenter gives us one of his darkest and atmospheric scores ever; capturing the unknown worlds of H.P. Lovecraft to a "T".

Okay, so I dug this flick. Now go out and see it. If you've seen it already, go see it again. If you like John Carpenter films, you should own this one. If you don't like his films, then I guess I'll be sharpenin' my axes for ya.

In The Mouth Of Madness is currently available to rent or purchase on VHS or DVD. The DVD features awesome Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, theatrical trailers, cast and crew filmographies, and a fascinating running commentary by John Carpenter and Gary B. Kibbe.


Sleepy Hollow
1999/Paramount Pictures/Rated R/105 minutes


In a Tim Burton flick, you usually get the kind of movie that packs plenty of visuals, with the story occasionally getting lost amidst all that gothic eye candy he manages to cook up for each film. There's no doubt that the man is an artist. There's no doubt that the man's films are undisputed masterpieces in the realms of art direction, production design, and cinematography. Unfortunately, many of Burton's films suffer as the story takes a back seat to his visuals. Many of you doom-'n'-gloomers and wannabe weekend vampires out there would take what I'm sayin' about the man to be cardinal sacrilege, but Burton has often been criticized for injecting too much style and not enough substance in his movies. It ain't just me whinin' about the guy. The absolutely brilliant Ed Wood was arguably his finest attempt at storytelling, if not his best directorial job. Beetlejuice was entertaining and innovative, but we saw too much of that same telltale "Beetlejuice world" in Burton's later flicks, like Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Edward Scissorhands was tough to sit through. Despite Jack Nicholson as the Joker and a great overall look, Batman made me wince and bite my thumbs in despair more than once. Mars Attacks was just a huge, retchin' bore. Don't even get me started on that one. I couldn’t get to my executioner's axe quick enough for that stink-fest. But, in Sleepy Hollow, Burton has found his niche. Thought I was greasin' up my blades for the guy, didn't ya?

I was skeptical about this film from the get-go. I expected another artistic triumph/directorial flop. In this movie, Burton creates a near-perfect balance of story and dreamy atmosphere; keeping the visuals as a backdrop for the story. The story, albeit a familiar one to most, is never lost. Set in gloomy 1899 New England, Burton's updated version features the rather nervous Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) as a constable looking into the grisly crimes of the Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken). While trying to solve the mystery of the Headless Horseman and stop his murderous rampage, Crane falls for the mayor's beautiful and adopted daughter, Kristina Van Tassal (Christina Ricci). Kevin Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker's story and screenplay does deviate quite a bit from the original story, but then again, so has every screen adaptation of the famous Washington Irving story. This doesn't hurt the film at all. In fact, the new spin makes the story more interesting, providing a look into the Horseman's dark past.

Looking back at the ultim-o lame-o Mars Attacks, one would expect Burton to return to the same film formula he used in Ed Wood, and he did. Excellent casting choices make all the difference for Sleepy Hollow. This film includes some of the finest actors and actresses today in supporting roles (as a matter of fact, many of them were also featured in Ed Wood). Jeffrey Jones (Ed Wood), Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Michael Gough (veteran Hammer Films actor who also played Alfred in the Batman films), Ian McDiarmid (the evil Palpatine from Return Of The Jedi and The Phantom Menace) Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Lisa Marie (Ed Wood), and the ever-awesome Christopher Walken (Dead Zone, The Prophecy, King Of New York, The Funeral). It's tough not to be inspired by a cast like that. Another absolutely cool treat is a guest appearance by the legendary Christopher Lee, which should delight fans everywhere. I went all giddy-like when I saw his scene come up. Kudos to Burton for that.

While I wasn't a terribly huge fan of Christina Ricci before Sleepy Hollow, I certainly am now. The young starlet turned in a captivating performance, which will keep her forever safe from my commemorative Drew Barrymore choppin' block…where so many young and promising actresses seem to end up these days.

And what about the film's main antagonist? At last, Washington Irving's Headless Horseman has finally been made into a serious threatening figure, and Christopher Walken was the best man to sell it. Walken's Horseman is frighteningly effective - even though he does not actually speak in the film (which made him even more terrifying). Appropriately un-Disney in just about every way, Burton's Horseman shakes off any of that tired, cartoonish stigmatism generated in past incarnations.

Now's a good time to talk about Johnny Depp. This guy just gets better and better, always turning in astonishing performances. He completely transforms into each role that he undertakes. He is quickly approaching the top of my best male actor list.

Let's get into the music. I have to admit, Burton's favorite pet composer Danny Elfman managed to pull off something original for a change. When I first saw his name flash across the credits in the film's opening, I thought, here we go. It'll either be another re-hash of Batman, Beetlejuice, or Pee Wee Herman. Elfman is notorious for ripping himself off. Don't believe me? Okay. For all you Elfman-lovers out there, take the Elfman film score challenge. Listen to the following film scores back-to-back. Batman, Dick Tracy, Darkman, and The Flash (T.V. series). 'Nuff said. To my surprise, his score complemented the film, and is probably his best work to date since the first Batman film. I used to be a big Elfman fan once upon a time, and Sleepy Hollow gives me a reason to not forsake the man just yet.

This movie left me eagerly anticipating Tim Burton's next film (which is reportedly the new Planet Of The Apes remake), which is something I can't say I was doing before I saw it -so my hood is off to Mr. Burton for winning me over. The movie offers a perfect blend humor, action, mystery, and it has its scary moments too. It is a must-see around Halloween time.

All of that aside, the movie boasts great effects, especially during the beheading scenes. When it comes to beheading, I'm an expert in that department. As the ads promised, heads did roll quite nicely. If you don't like Tim Burton; you're not into the Washington Irving story; you don't like the actors/actresses; or you don't like gawkin' at Christina Ricci or Miranda Richardson; then you should at least see this movie for the great head-rollin' scenes. Check out the fantastic fight sequence between the Horseman, Brom Bones (Casper Van Dien), and Ichabod Crane. It's no Phantom Menace fight scene, but you won't be disappointed by how the Horseman dispatches with poor Brom.

Sleepy Hollow is currently available to rent or purchase on VHS or DVD. I highly recommend you see it on DVD if you're DVD-equipped. The DVD features stunning Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, theatrical trailers, director's commentary, a photo gallery, cast and crew interviews, and a cool behind-the-scenes featurette.


The Mummy
1999/Universal Pictures/Rated PG-13/125 minutes


Writer-director Stephen Sommers gives us a loose remake of the 1932 classic, revamping the legend of Imhotep with computer-generated effects and Indiana Jones-style adventure. The film stars Brendan Fraser (George Of The Jungle, Blast From The Past) as gun-toting mercenary Rick O'Conell, who teams up with bookish British archeologist Evie (Rachel Weisz) and her brother Jonathan (John Hanna) in search of ancient treasure in the lost city of Hamunaptra, circa 1923. Instead, they manage to unearth and unwittingly resurrect a 3,000 year-old mummy known as Inmhotep (Arnold Vosloo). With the help of desert warrior and magi Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr), they try to stop Imhotep from gaining power and ultimately plunging the world into darkness. Early on in the film, Imhotep takes on a cowardly but treacherous mercenary as his human servant, named Benny (Kevin J. O'Connor) who aids him in his unearthly endeavors.

The Mummy is a well-produced movie that's entertaining in spite of its flaws. The movie does take a few historical and mythological liberties, but managed to survive my scrutiny in favor of its decent entertainment value. It's a good, solid popcorn movie, and although it's derivative of many adventure films of yore, it manages to pay homage to these films as it politely "borrows" from them. Arnold Vosloo is particularly effective and imposing as Imhotep, and with the help of decent CGI effects, director Steven Sommers shows us a mummy that possesses real power at a level beyond the Karloff version of Imhotep. We don't get to see a moldering, bandaged monster terrorizing the countryside in this film, as witnessed in the classic Universal Mummy movies. Instead, we get see the sorcery of a resurrected High Priest of Set come to life; more reminiscent of Boris Karloff's mummy in the 1932 film, but far more powerful. This is a real treat, but is the only potent horror element in the film. Some of the film's CGI effects don't work so well though, like the flesh-eating scarabs that appear a little too quick and a little too polished… Again, these tiny flaws are easily overlooked for all the good things in this film.

All of the cast turn in fine performances, and the film never takes itself too seriously, resulting in a few legitimate laughs along the way. The movie doesn't have too many surprises, and there's never really anything to fear for our intrepid good guys. But, it does have all the ingredients for a card-
carrying, above-average, tongue-in-cheek adventure flick. Brendan Fraser is a likable, rugged, and imperfect hero. He's complimented by the enormously cute Rachel Weisz who supplies the formulaic but believable love interest. Evie's brother Jonathan and the spineless, whining Benny provide the comic relief, while still keeping the laughs in balance with the thrills. Oded Fehr lends believability to his portrayal of the enigmatic Ardeth Bey while also providing narration for the film's opening scenes.

Two more important elements of this film: Jerry Goldsmith's lavish musical score. The Mummy would've suffered greatly without his contribution. Goldsmith's score endows the production with an overall class and credibility few other composers could've accomplished. The film also benefits from great production design, which is particularly evident in the movie's opening scenes showing the ancient city of Thebes. Props go out to the production design team and ILM for creating a fantastic look for The Mummy.

Good 'ol swashbuckling action, dusty old tombs, ancient curses, creepy bugs, romance, and undead do-badders usually make for a good time, and this film does accomplish that. This is a harmless, fun movie. My only real complaint is that it could've explored the horror-element a little more for my tastes; after all, this is a mummy movie. A little added spookiness with a little less action thrills may have made this a better mummy movie and would've probably earned it another axe. 'Course…it may have also earned the producers a harsher MPAA rating. Bah. A curse on them, and their first-born sons.

The Mummy is currently available to rent or purchase on VHS or DVD. The DVD features pristinely-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (probably the best-sounding DVD of 1999-2000), theatrical trailers, director's commentary, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.


The Mummy Returns
2001/Universal Pictures/Rated PG-13/130 minutes


A good example of a bad sequel. The Mummy Returns re-teams writer/director Stephen Sommers with the original cast of 1999's The Mummy for this disappointing and very annoying sequel. Suffering from an acute case of sequel-itis, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is resurrected again in hopes of finding the ancient Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. WWF star "The Rock") to secure his pursuit of world domination. Indiana Jones wannabe Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), his wife Evie (Rachel Weisz), brother-in-law Jonathan (John Hanna), and desert warrior Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr) are out to foil the Mummy's plans and save their son who's being used by Imhotep and company to locate the Scorpion King's resting place. Y-a-a-w-w-n.

Give me the Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney, Jr. Mummy movies any day over this cinematic hoo-hah. This movie beats you over the head at every turn with bad CGIs, inappropriate Matrix-esque fight scenes, over-the-top action, insipid one-liners and 21st-Century euphemisms, a formula plot (complete with the cutesy kid sidekick), and somehow manages to reduce the likeability of the characters from the original film. Everything you liked about the original film is chucked aside for cheap comic gags, goofy visual effects, formula chase scenes, and things that blow up real good. Among some of the movie's bevy of stupid visual effects are the awful cartoon-like dog-men soldiers belonging to the Scorpion King, wall-crawling mummies, and the George Lucas-inspired "pygmy-mummies" that assail good and bad guys alike (and have about the same appeal as undead Ewoks on speed). Another ridiculous sight in the film was the use of a poorly-animated dirigible, that is not only jet-propelled (an interesting scientific achievement considering the film is set in the year 1933), but manages to completely (and miraculously) re-assemble itself after being totally demolished in a crash…and just in time to save the good guys! Yet another inexplicable gag is how O'Conell (on foot and carrying his son) manages to outrace the rising sun to save his kid from the Scorpion King's cursed bracelet. Worse, this movie shamelessly borrows scenes from other memorable movies as well, such as the Indiana Jones films, The Lost World: Jurassic Park II (replace raptors with the above-mentioned "pygmy-mummies" in the "tall grass" sequence, and you'll know what I'm gettin' at), and even Home Alone. Sorry bunkies, I'm takin' this movie to school.

Brendan Fraser's Rick O'Connell is a gross amplification of his original portrayal. The actor is unbelievable as full-fledged action star, slinging one-liners as fast as his six-shooters in the film. More unbelievable is how everyone has suddenly learned martial arts fighting skills since the first film. O'Connell can somehow catch knives in mid-air and fight with all manner of weaponry with the greatest of Matrix -like ease; mild-mannered bookworm Evie is now a sultry wildcat with uncanny mastery over the sword. Her newfound prowess is casually explained away when we discover that she's a reincarnation of some ancient ass-kickin' Egyptian princess - who is also by coincidence - the daughter of the Pharoah that Imhotep slays in the first film. In one scene (although it is a flashback of her "former incarnation"), she's engaged in a ritual battle wielding Japanese weapons called sais. My, but those Egyptians sure do get around. We're also supposed to believe that O'Connell is some kind of reincarnation himself, as Ardeth Bey tells him he's "the Chosen One" because of some tattoo on his forearm he's supposedly had all this time. Uh-huh.

The film's historical and mythological accuracy is stretched even more than what audiences saw in the original film. Ordinarily, you can ignore such cinematic faux pas, if the film makes up for these flaws in other ways. Unfortunately, this flick fails to deliver the goods. This movie tries hard to keep the energy up, but with such a lame-o story, not even the power of Imhotep could resurrect anything interesting in this film. The movie has too many contrivances with too few surprises. The Mummy Returns suffers from the absence of Jerry Goldsmith's rousing score that he did for the original film. Alan Silvestri's disappointing score sounds like he tried to copy Goldsmith's style, but it falls short of the mark with an unimpressive soundtrack full of musical clichés.

What is even more disappointing, is what was done to Vosloo's captivating character of Imhotep. In this flick, Imhotep's power and general presence is dampened in favor of trumping up the Scorpion King. Imhotep is relegated to nothing more than a moustache-twisting villain. Gone is the terror and dread that he once instilled in The Mummy. For a being that commanded the "power of the Seven Plagues of Egypt", now he needs the power of the Scorpion King to take over the world. Eh?? Why didn't he go after the Scorpion King in the first film? At the very least, it may have spared us from this schlock-filled sequel. It seems like this film was just a clever marketing scam in disguise for presenting a new line in The Mummy movie franchise, The Scorpion King. Instead of The Mummy Returns, maybe this flick should've been called, Enter The Scorpion King.

Speaking of The Scorpion King, the movie's giant marketing and promotional engine hyped The Rock to the Nth degree in this film, but we only see him in the film's first 10 minutes (maybe the best part of the whole film). We're robbed of a real payoff at the film's climax, when we finally get to see the Scorpion King who's become a monstrous half-man, half-scorpion creature in what has to be Ray Harryhausen's worst nightmare. In perhaps the worst CGI effect in recent years, The Rock's head is replaced by an embarrassing computer-generated head which is sits atop a human torso attached to the giant body of a scorpion. Sounds cool, but it had to be the silliest thing I've seen in a big-budget movie in a long time. The creature's body looked more like a oversized lobster that moved with Gumby-level stop-motion precision. What visual effects computer geek gave the green light for this gag? He or she should be working craftservice on the freakin' Power Rangers for that crap. This is video game stuff for kiddies, folks. Hard to believe that the think tank at ILM was responsible for the visual effects fodder in this film. Maybe they ran outta money when it came time to do the end scenes? Wotta load of celluloid claptrap. This was 2 hours and 10 minutes of my life down the crapper, folks.

Shame on Stephen Sommers and the producers for taking the easy way out instead of giving audiences enough credit to be more intelligent than the wanking mess he peddled to them. Let's hope that the Mummy doesn't return again, huh?

The Mummy Returns is currently available to rent or purchase on VHS or DVD. The DVD features Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, theatrical trailers, commentary, interviews, and a making-of featurette.


The Scorpion King
2002/Universal Pictures/Rated PG-13/88 minutes


"The Scorpion King has no sting". If you were to read no further, that one sentence sums up this film to a freakin' tee. This "spin-off" or prequel to Universal's The Mummy/The Mummy Returns franchise centers on the Scorpion King character first introduced in the latter film. World Wrestling Federation super-hero "The Rock" (a.k.a. - Dwayne Johnson) plays the painfully-obvious Conan-esque character in the "pre-pyramid" days of ancient Egypt, years before his transformation into the ridiculous "man-scorpion" creature seen at the end of the equally-ridiculous The Mummy Returns. The plot is fairly predictable: Mathayus (the Rock) is a member of an elite group of Akkadian assassins hired by the oppressed enemies of bad-guy Memnon (Steven Brand) to kill the sorcerer that gives him his "edge" in battle. Mathayus discovers that Memnon's sorcerer is really this hot chick Cassandra (Kelly Hu), and stays his hand from wasting her. This brings a whole lotta problems into the muscle-bound Akkadian's life, as he winds up leading the remaining resistance forces in battle against Memnon and his armies. Along the way, Mathayus teams up with wisecracking horse-thief Arpid (Grant Heslov) and eccentric, archetypical old alchemist Philos (Bernard Hill). Mathayus also finds the time to wrestle with bandit-leader Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan) and tries to get it on with Cassandra in a rather stilted love scene.

The movie suffers on a bunch 'o' levels. Hack director Chuck Russell, who has been responsible for some watchable films in past years such as The Mask and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, has definitely lost his touch as a director who knows what he wants and how to get it on screen. The blame cannot be pinned entirely on Mr. Russell however. Although there are some decent actors in this movie, they are hampered by lame-o juvenile dialogue that's overflowing with 21st-Century euphemisms. There's little fantasy in this fantasy movie, which is fine, except that all this film has to offer is knock-down, drag-out sword clashes every 10 minutes or so, with characters that are so underdeveloped you can care less about the outcome of every battle. And, like its predecessor The Mummy Returns, this movie rips off some memorable scenes from other successful action films. One pilfered scene that comes to mind is the rolling gong gag from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, when Indiana rolls a giant gong in front of him, allowing him elude his enemies' gunfire while he makes his escape. Mathayus does the same thing to protect himself from flying arrows while he escapes from near death in Memnon's harem den. Note to the writers: If yer gonna rip something off, don't do it from a movie that everyone and their grandma has seen a dozen times over! 

The Rock does an O.K. job at playing the action hero, and unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger's dismal performances in the Conan films, the Rock manages to keep afloat in spite of The Scorpion King's unimaginative dialogue. He does look awfully clean and scrubbed for such a rough-'n'-tumble barbaric warrior though, and he lacks any real emotional range. But hey…what can else you do with such rancid dialogue? And, when compared to other he-man heroes made of wood like Arnie, Chuck Norris, and squinty-eyed Steven Segal, the Rock will probably establish himself as a leader among the next generation of action stars. Not much of an accomplishment.

Cassandra makes a pretty pathetic sorceress, possessing some unimpressive magic in the film. All she seems to do is run around modeling the latest in Babylonian lingerie, which makes one wonder about her true value to Memnon. Maybe he just wants her around for the eye-candy that she provides? Although Kelly Hu is not hard on the eyeballs, her presence on screen is somewhat forgettable beyond her muted PG-13 sex appeal. The actress look would look more at home preening in a make-up or hair care commercial. Michael Clarke Duncan turns in a decent performance as Balthazar, but he's a million miles from The Green Mile. There is a fight scene between Mathayus and Balthazar that will make WWF fans swoon with testosterone-filled joy, but there's little else for Michael Clarke Duncan's character to do, except maybe dream about a bigger sword. Steven Brand proves that he's really a fine actor trapped in the confines of a bad script. In his portrayal of resident baddie Memnon, Brand chewed up the scenes he was in and was quite entertaining. It's just too bad the writers and producers of this flick went for the lowest common denominator.

Veteran British actor Bernard Hill (as Philos) and Olympic athlete-turned-actress Sherri Howard (as Queen Isis) are wasted in this film. Too bad for Howard, because she seems to be more action-oriented than Kelly Hu's sleepy character, and we just didn't get to see enough babes-with-weapons in combat. Another problem is John Debney's tepid, modern original score, which sounded like outtakes from an episode of Smackdown. Just as as inappropriate as the forgettable "head-banging" song heard during the movie's end credits. A far cry from really memorable fantasy-action film scores like Conan The Barbarian, Flesh + Blood, and Excalibur.

Believe it or not, there are some redeeming qualities in this flick. The movie does provide some decent, old-fashioned action without the over-used wire stunts filmgoers are being bombarded with these days in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix (and its sequels), and Charlie's Angels. Instead of over-the-top Peter Pan gags, The Scorpion King serves up - for the most part - practical swordfighting action that's reminiscent of the great swashbuckling movies of yore…with just a touch of martial arts. The Rock and Steven Brand look comfortable with their swordfighting sequences and sell their action scenes very well. Unfortunately, too many tight camera angles coupled with MTV-style editing makes it tough to appreciate a lot of the action. Another refreshing aspect of the film is that it's not heavy on the CGIs as its predecessors were. Although there are some CGI effects seen in the film (like digital cobras and fire ants), much of The Scorpion King's visual effects provide digital set extensions and backdrops. Despite the movie's complete lack of historical and mythological accuracy, kudos should be given to the production design team for providing a great overall look for the film.

Shades of Anakin Skywalker! If anyone really cares about the film's continuity with The Mummy Returns, we still don't know how the Rock's character becomes the evil Scorpion King who makes a deal with the evil god Set. Maybe that's something we'll all have to wait for in the next sequel (~ groan ~). It is unfortunate that the movie could never stray away from its PG-13 mandate, which seemed to suppress the violence and sexuality one would expect to be in a swords-'n'-sandals epic. An episode of The A-Team has more blood-'n'-bruises than this movie, and the all the hot nubile maidens seen throughout the movie are carefully covered just enough to arouse the scores of pre-teen males rushing to see the film. Anybody remember 1982's The Beastmaster with Marc Singer and Rip Torn? Well, The Scorpion King would be a slightly better flick, if not for Tanya Robert's brief but titillating nude scene in the former film. Showing more sex and violence could've actually helped a film like The Scorpion King, since the script was pure doo-doo. Likewise, Universal's Conan the Barbarian and Conan The Destroyer were superior films if only for the fact that they pushed the sex-'n'- violence envelope a little further. 

On the whole, the film should have been better than it was and it barely earned its two-axe rating. It is slightly superior to The Mummy Returns, and as a mindless popcorn movie, it's very digestible, fast-paced, and does have plenty of energy. But, it lacks real dynamics; delivering a somewhat flat, processed product. For WWF and Rock fans, the movie will probably equal the second coming of Christ. The film should also have some appeal to adolescent boys 14 and under. Bottom line? Bad script, predictable plot, phone-in directing, 2-dimensional characters, good action, good-lookin' babes = fun for snot-nosed, pre-pubescent boys, fans of wrestling and monster truck rallies, rednecks, and fans of expensive b-movie trash. My advice would be to rent this fish on DVD for half the dough you'd spend at the theatre and go see a Lord Of The Rings movie instead.