Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/06/05 12:44:33

"Sword? Check. Sandal? Check. Stupidity? Check."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

I have often declared my love for the sword and sandal epic as a genre, but what I have failed to mention is that many of these kinds of movies really, really blow. Like “Troy,” director Wolfgang Peterson’s colossal dud that’s “inspired by” The Iliad, in the sense that Homer’s story inspired himto make a movie but didn’t inspire him enough to make it a good one.

To get a sense of what’s gone wrong here, understand that Peterson requested that screenwriter David Benioff (“25th Hour”) remove all references to the Greek gods because Peterson thought they were “silly,” yet he thought it was OK for Helen to say lines like “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of tomorrow!” Ugh.

The whole movie - all 162 agonizing minutes of it - is like that, folks. I admire its epic vision; the costumes, sets, cinematography, and visual effects are all quite impressive, presenting that grand widescreen feel that makes an epic an epic. But while “Troy” is a good technical film, it’s a horrible dramatic one. The script is loaded with groaners like the one above, delivered by newcomer Diane Kruger with all the verve of a soap star who just learned her lines five minutes ago. The storyline has been torn apart and rebuilt as a great big mess. The music - James Horner ripping off (quite badly) Hans Zimmer’s “Gladiator” score and, I think, the “Jaws” theme - is a laughable blend of crap and crud. And, hey, can Brad Pitt pick one accent and stick with it for more than five minutes at a time?

Seriously, this is Pitt’s worst performance ever, hands down. His Achilles is presented as an emotionally conflicted uber-hero, and Pitt doesn’t quite know what to do with the part. Frankly, neither do we. A Greek demigod retooled as a self-doubting soldier for hire? The result is scene after scene in which Pitt looks lost and confused, like a big dumb guy asked to solve a Rubik’s Cube. He comes out of his fog just long enough to shout stuff like: “You know what’s on that beach? Immortality! Take it! It’s yyyyyooooouuuuurrrrr’ssss!!”

There is also a scene in which, during the seige of Troy, we see Achilles climbing up the side of a wall. Instead of taking the stairs, which are right next to the wall. Hot damn, this is one dumbass movie.

I should probably mention the plot, for those of you who never bothered to read The Iliad in high school. Wacky Trojan princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom) have come to Sparta to make good with King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). Foreign relations are going just fine until the king’s wife, Helen, ups and runs off with hunky young Paris, probably because he spends the first part of the movie bare-ass naked. (Come on. Naked Orlando Bloom versus naked Brendan Gleeson? No contest. Hell, maybe in between sex sessions, he can give her tips on how to be fabulous.)

Anyway, Menelaus is a bit peeved at Paris, so he and Greek “king of kings” Agamemnon (Brian Cox, chewing more scenery than he can swallow) set out with ace soldier Achilles in tow to invade Troy. Many battles ensue, including one in which Achilles’ men start creeping along in such perfect unison that I swear I thought they were going to start singing numbers from “A Chorus Line.”

Aside from the whole no-gods thing, Benioff wiggles the story in a few other minor areas, such as whittling the war down to just a few days, and making the Patroclus character Achilles’ cousin and not his, um, “Greek friend.” Considering how crucial Patroclus is to the plot, you’d think this alteration would be a big deal, but so much dumber stuff is going on around it that you don’t really care. (Like, for instance, a death scene that has an entire battle of some tens of thousands of soldiers come to a halt just to watch this one guy be dead, like it’s the spotlight dance at the prom.)

There’s also this thing that Pitt’s Achilles has for sniffing hair. A lot. Considering Pitt is repeatedly shot as if he’s in a shampoo commercial, all flowing golden mane and slow motion and such, I’m wondering if this was the closest thing they could get to product placement. Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific. No? Too old a reference?

“Troy” does contain two very good scenes that belong in a better movie. The first is a battle between the cowardly Paris and the vengeful Menelaus. With practically no dialogue to scuff it up, and little directing flourishes to get in the way, this scene becomes one for the actors, especially Bloom (who, like half the cast, is too good for something this vapid). The young star goes from false bravado to shameful cowardice in such a convincing manner that we’re reminded just how cool this movie should have been.

Then comes a later scene between Pitt and Peter O’Toole. Yes, the Peter O’Toole. There’s plenty of dialogue, most of of mercifully not asinine, and O’Toole, a master of delivering the English language, simply sits down and shows Pitt how it’s done. As King Priam, lamenting the death of a son and demanding that his enemy show him some respect, O’Toole’s performance overcomes all obstacles. We come to care for his character and his situation, and the legendary actor rescues us from an otherwise dull work.

But ten minutes of quality do not matter when the other one hundred fifty two of them are so lousy. Peterson directs on autopilot (for a filmmaker with such a great reputation, we often forget that this is the hump that gave us “Outbreak” and “Air Force One,” laughable messes both), and the closest Benioff comes to recognizing the source material is a scene where Achilles is shot in the heel, although that ain’t what kills him. “Troy” is a Cliffs Notes version without the helpful observations, a classic fable reduced to soap opera cheese and action movie idiocy.

This is a sword and sandal epic so misguided that Richard Burton would have turned it down. Sure, it looks great, but did anybody bother to check the script first?

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.