Laughs Above Logic in Corny, Faux-Retro 'Scorpion King 4'

Directed by: Mike Elliot; Runtime: 105 minutes
Grade: D+

By my evaluation, The Scorpion King 4: The Quest for Power marks the seventh film to take place in the general universe of the rebooted Mummy series. Granted, we're in full-on spinoff territory here, where the threadbare connections to Stephen Sommers' original pair of adventures have practically vanished. That's still quite a bit of mileage out of an initial film that's generously described as a great guilty-pleasure action flick, though; and, to be honest, these inane sword-'n-sorcery by-products aren't too much worse than the bloated, big-budget Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ended up being. Scorpion King 4 goes back to the direct-to-video well by repurposing the roundabout plot idea from The Mummy Returns -- the search for a hidden location housing an all-powerful enchantment that grants influential power to those who get there first -- for a broad, mostly family-friendly escapade through an ancient era, studded with overt cameos and, uh, enthusiastic humor. While it's not any good, at least it plays to its campy strengths and doesn't try to pretend to be anything it's not.

This fourth Scorpion King movie does have one minor thing going for it that its predecessors didn't: Continuum's Victor Webster reprises his role as Mathayus, a soldier of fortune who will eventually become the conquering warlord known as the Scorpion King. For now, however, he's content in working under the guidance of King Zakour (Rutger Hauer), finding himself -- and his new assistant/partner, Drazen (Will Kemp) -- on a search for a powerful relic that bequeaths enormous political power to the person who discovers it. Along the way, Mathayus is betrayed, framed for the murder of another king as the rightful heir poises himself to take over the throne. To fitfully rule, the new heir also needs the power of the ancients; however, none of them have concrete information on its whereabouts, on a key-shaped device that might point the in the right direction. With the help of Valina (Ellen Hollman), the heir's ex-fiance who's been jailed up for her actions, and her eccentric science-minded father, Sorrell (Barry Bostwick), Mathayus continues his own hunt for the hidden power.

Despite being a rather straight-edged premise as the script from Journey to the Center of the Earth's Michael D. Weiss works its way through betrayals, assassinations, map-following, puzzle-solving, and romantic opposites attracting, the plot for The Scorpion King 4 still devolves into a mess if much of anything is given a second thought, making the goofiness in Masters of the Universe or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys seem just a wee bit more authentic in comparison. Here's the thing, though: it almost seems unkind to pick at the film for having gullible jailers and terrible archers, let alone inexperienced people who snap into warrior mode when they need to take down opponents who literally fight for a living. Most of the time, they're played for blatant humor that veers away from the series' action-driven side, and more towards overt comedy that almost seems as if it wants to lampoon the genre's tics and tropes. And it might've worked had the humor not fallen flat so frequently alongside the derring-do, its cheesy innuendos and visual cues too on-the-nose while juggling an almost-interesting viewpoint on the balance between the laws of science and the existence of magic.

It doesn't help that the volume of action in The Scorpion King 4 ain't packing the necessary oomph, either, whether in serious mode or trying to hearken back to the series' earlier films with lighthearted antics. Even with the presence of MMA fighters and professional wrestlers around each corner, both the choreography and editing feel choppy and enervated, with the violence deliberately held back to make everything relatively acceptable for a broad range of audiences. Foot chases through decently-dressed sets are plentiful yet lethargic, while the hand-to-hand fighting reveals too much rigidity on the part of the actors. In place of proper mayhem, the film defaults to humor much in the way a Saturday-morning cartoon might, hoping that the audience won't dwindle on the film's limp momentum by directing their attention to bearded mustache-twirling lackeys on power trips and Ellen Hollman's animated facial expressions as she's getting beaten to a pulp with nary a drop of blood. To a degree, it works, generating ludicrous little delights that have a taste of the intentional overzealous appeal harking back to '80s and '90s fantasy fluff.

What's kinda frustrating about Scorpion King 4 is that Victor Webster's capable, charismatic presence seems made of slightly higher-tier stuff than playing a Dwayne Johnson proxy filtered through the likes of Kevin Sorbo's Hercules. Somewhere between Webster's reputable stint on Continuum as a rugged police detective and his sympathetic, burly charm as Mathayus lies a puckish rogue of a hero who could command a fresh narrative, instead of relying on tattered tie-in material with the daffy volume dialed up too high. Like this, his subtle strengths -- and his dedicated physique-building -- get bogged down by mustache-twirling villains who are conveniently right behind the heroes at all times, guys getting catapulted around in feathered bird suits, and blunt cameos from storied character actors and C-list celebs done up in archaic costumes. Instead of Webster's lead culminating into a decent chunk of barbaric action-comedy, The Scorpion King 4 ends up feeling like a middling two-episode arc of a television series that's on its last mummified legs.

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