Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption

Netflix recently sent me The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Scorpion King or whatever it's called. About twenty minutes in I shut it off because I realized I'd already seen it. That I could remember nothing at all about it didn't deter me from moving right on to Netflix Instant for The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption, which should convey something about the degree to which I care about this franchise.

To be clear, though, my full opinion of the franchise is that The Scorpion King was good, stupid fun, and is one of those The Rock movies that you can just watch and enjoy: decent action, only slightly insulting dialogue, and adequate performances all around. Both of TSK1's direct-to-video sequels lack The Rock, however, and must be approached with the appropriate level of caution.

About the second one I will say nothing except that it's a prequel (the origin story of the Scorpion King, so The Rock's successor is younger) and that some other pro wrestler plays the villain, who is supposed to be history's King Sargon. From the opening scenes I saw (and had apparently seen before) his performance is as nuanced and believable as those of the very finest actors in, say, Birdemic.

TSK3 was...uneven. The Rock is replaced this time by a guy with a similar physique and similar mannerisms (minus The Eyebrow—come to think of it, maybe the actor was incapable of that particular move). Battle for Redemption's actual nameable stars are Ron Perlman as a king of an unnamed country (I theorized "some eastern Greek province or something" while watching, but apparently he's supposed to be Egyptian...just go with it) and Billy Zane as the villain with a Billy Zaneish personality. These movies often try to have at least one actor display gravitas, and in this case it was Perlman—and despite his small role, his performance was pretty darn watchable.

The less said of Zane's villain, the better. His goal is to steal the Book of the Dead (which probably had some relevance in a previous film, or maybe another franchise), then use it to—well, I don't want to spoil one of Zane's few halfway-interesting scenes, but I think we can all agree that it's not a spoiler to say he means to rule the world wahahaha. But Zane's performance is not just unlikeable—his character was clearly meant to be unlikeable—it's unlikeably unlikeable. It doesn't help that Zane's put-upon henchman looks and behaves like Beck in gladiator clothes. (How do I know how Beck behaves when he's in gladiator clothes? SHUT UP, I just do. Short description: humiliated.) I tuned the villain scenes out to such a degree that I don't even remember how/if he dies at the end.

If you like war elephants standing around and occasionally performing low-grade circus stunts in lieu of actually fighting, then this is your movie. I'm actually half-complimenting Battle for Redemption here: the budget, while obviously limited, was well-spent in terms of creating a milieu. The feel of TSK1 was one of its strengths—sort of a watered-down, tongue-in-cheek Conan—and TSK3 has its own feel, which is more than can be said of a lot of these cheapies.

But no discussion of Battle for Redemption would be complete without close analysis of Olav, the "Germanic" "comic relief" sidekick who looked for all the world like a "Prancing Pony" patron from Fellowship of the Ring. As a character, he's basically disposable—just someone for the hero to interact with. At times, charitable viewers will find Olav reminds them of some of their more ribald D&D characters (or DM flavor cohorts). I'm almost completely convinced that 99 of his 100 on-screen belches were edited into Battle for Redemption in post. But why? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe they felt the theme of battling for redemption was underrepresented by the actual plot, so they added in an audible battle for the redemption of Olav's intestinal flora.

Speaking of the plot: it's clunky initially—the backstory montage, while unhelpfully panning over maps of Asia with no resemblance to reality, makes one brief reference to "the Cobra" and if you miss it, good luck following the next hour. When Mathayus (that's the Scorpion King's name, for you folks following along at home) and Olav meet the rebel army living in the wilderness, the story starts falling into place a bit more, in the sense that it becomes as painfully predictable as a Sci-Fi channel movie with "Dragon" in its title. (Maybe I'll review one of those here sometime.)

Additionally painful are the fight scene quips. I would cite an example, but it would just depress you. Let's just say that some of them are, again, rather obviously added in post-production, and to call them infantile insults the creativity of infants. I'm not saying I didn't laugh, but I am saying the laughter was that of bitter incredulity, not entertainment.

Otherwise, though, Battle for Redemption could've been an awful lot worse considering it's the direct-to-video sequel to a direct-to-video prequel of a spinoff/sequel to a sequel to an homage. (TSK2 -> TSK1 -> The Mummy Returns -> The Mummy, in case I lost you there.)

Star Score: 2 out of 5

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