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Awesome: 0%
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Pretty Crappy56%
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3 reviews, 7 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Coastus Is Toastus"
2 stars

Once upon a time--2007, to be precise--it was announced that Roman Polanski was going to direct "Pompeii," an epic depiction of the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the subsequent destruction of the formerly thriving titular city that he would direct from a screenplay by Robert Harris, adapting his best-selling novel of the same name, and which would co-star Orlando Bloom and Scarlett Johansson. Like the city itself, this "Pompeii" also went up in flames, though less as the result of fireballs and flaming-hot magma than the equally destructive twin forces of a skyrocketing budget (it was set to become the most expensive European film ever made) and a looming actors guild strike. Polanski and Harris would go on to make "The Ghost Writer" together and Johansson would continue to sport a toga in my daydreams but, also like the city, "Pompeii" would remain dead and buried.

However, you can't keep a good disaster down and now "Pompeii" is erupting into multiplexes, though not exactly in the form that was once intended. This version features directions by Paul W.S. Anderson (a.k.a. "The Other One" and "The Luckiest Bastard On The Planet"), the auteur of such landmarks as "Soldier," "Death Race" and the "Resident Evil" franchise (proof that even a broken clock tells the right time once a day, or five times and counting in this case), a screenplay featuring two of the writers of "Batman Forever" and a cast including one of the stars of "Game of Thrones," one of the stars of "Sucker Punch" and Kiefer Sutherland as one of the screen's more unlikely Roman senators. Perhaps not surprisingly, the end result is a mess that tries to revive two long-dead film sub-genres--the sword-and-sandals epic and the large-scale disaster film--and pretty much only serves to remind why both fell from favor in the first place. And yet, the film is so cheerfully cheesy and sublimely silly that it is hard not to have a little affection for its constant flow of absurdities, though how much affection will depend on one's tolerance for pure cinematic gibberish and whether it is worth the price of a movie ticket and the 3-D upcharge.

Following a solemn quote from none other than Pliny the Younger, the film opens as a band of proud Celt horsemen trying to lead a rebellion against their hated Roman oppressors are slaughtered by troops led by the loathsome Senator Corvus (Sutherland). The lone survivor is a young lad named Milo who is eventually sold into slavery and when the story picks up again years later (and where he is now played by Kit Harrington), he is a six-pack-sporting champion in the provincial gladiatorial circuit who is brought to Pompeii for a shot at the big time. His competitor( Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the reigning slave champion, has been assured that he will finally earn his freedom with this one last victory and after all, why would the Romans lie? Thus begins the inevitable development in which the two lunks wind up forming a grudging friendship over the next two days that is only occasionally interrupted by one coyly reminding the other that he will indeed kill the other when the time comes.

Also arriving in Pompeii is Cassia (Emily Browning), who has fled the decadence of Rome to return to her slightly-less-decadent hometown in time for the Vinalia festival. Unfortunately for her, one of the key reasons for her departure turns out to be the now-powerful Corvus, who has arrived in order to discuss an investment opportunity for a new stadium with her father (Jared Harris). Along with a skybox and unlimited chicken wings, Corvus also demands Cassia's hand in marriage as part of the bargain and assures her that he will destroy her family if refused. Coincidentally, Cassia and Milo meet on the road to Pompeii over a dying horse and it is, surprise, love at first sight. Needless to say, this doesn't sit too well with Corvus and at the gladiatorial games the next day, he tinkers with the lineup to provide an especially nasty surprise for Cassia. Sadly for him, this surprise winds up backfiring on him when Milo and band together to fight off hordes of Roman soldiers in a battle that does inspire a retort from Corvus that is almost, but not quite, worth the price of admission.

With all of this going on, it is perhaps no wonder that no one in the city seems to notice that the old volcano tethered up on the outskirts of town seems to be a lot smokier and rumblier than usual and that there is now an abundance of beachfront property where there didn't use to be any before. Eventually, Vesuvius blows and inspires chaos amidst the people of Pompeii that would not be seen again until that terrible day when two inches of snow befell Atlanta--besides the expected fireballs and lava flows, the panicking populace is also forced to contend with equally dodgy CGI representations of earthquakes, building collapses and even a tidal wave that sends stout wooden ships hurtling down the once-dry streets. Of course, the volcano has a certain panache and flair for the dramatic because while it destroys the city willy-nilly, it leaves the main characters alive long enough so that all of the main characters can complete their dramatic arcs before finally meeting their respective fates.

If anyone out there is addled enough to pony up their cash to see "Pompeii" in order to see a serious-minded historical drama, they will no doubt be disappointed to discover almost instantly that the film is little more than an exceptionally blatant compilation of elements stolen from the likes of "Titanic," "Gladiator," "Spartacus" and "Game of Thrones" that have been randomly jammed together and augmented with 3-D imagery that is shaky to start with and increasingly useless as the action gets shakier and the imagery gets darker. The story is ridiculous, of course, but one of the problems with the film is that it is still perhaps a little too staid for its own good. Director Paul W.S. Anderson has never been mistaken for a good director but when he dispenses with even the most rudimentary elements of storytelling in exchange for souped-up spectacle, as he has with the "Resident Evil" films, the results are entertaining in a delightfully cheesy manner. Here, the story, despite a zillion small moments of silliness, never quite cuts loose to the degree that it needs to in order to work as a truly inspired guilty pleasure. It keeps threatening to completely take leave of its senses but is never quite able to make that final descent into madness in the way that, say, "Winter's Tale" does with such delightful abandon. That said, whichever one of the screenwriters came up with the soon-to-be-immortal opening line, "You brought me from a perfectly good brothel for this?," deserves some kind of accolade for a job well-done.

The performances are pretty much a mixed bag throughout as well. As the romantic leads, Harrington and Browning are attractive enough but strike so few sparks together that it is impossible to work up any rooting interest about their respective plights or if they will somehow defy the odds and wind up together. And while I am usually loathe to comment on the physical attributes of actors when it is not necessarily relevant to the proceedings, I must admit that whenever the two of them appeared together, I was instantly reminded of Groucho Marx's famous retort when asked why he hadn't seen the Victor Mature-Hedy Lamar classic "Samson & Delilah" back in the day; "I never go to a film where the guy's tits are bigger that the girl's." Meanwhile, the excellent actor Akinnuoye-Agbaje threatens to throw things completely off-kilter by turning in a performance that is actually halfway credible despite its surroundings--clearly someone must have slipped up and told him that he was making a real movie and didn't have the heart to correct him later on. Then there is Kiefer Sutherland, who is either the best or the worst thing about the film, depending on your perspective. On the one hand, he could not be more ridiculously miscast than he is here as the villainous Corvus--if ever there was an actor who was not meant to play a deceitful and cruel Roman senator, it is him. On the other hand, even though his utter unsuitability for the part must have been evident from the first table read, he does not use his miscasting as an excuse to delve into camp silliness--he instead plows ahead with a grimly serious turn that, of course, inspires even more laughter than if he had been camping it up in the first place.

"Pompeii" is total junk but while I cannot recommend it, not even as unintentional comedy, I can't really find it in my heart to lash out at it too viciously either. After all, when you consider the fact that no sane and sober-minded person could possibly walk into it with elevated expectations, it seems unfairly punitive to punish it for then not living up to them. Besides, after having recently endured the truly appalling likes of the remakes of "Endless Love" and "About Last Night," I can hardly bring myself to bring the hammer down too hard on a film whose greatest artistic sin is that it often feels more like a two-hour version of one of those stupid goddamn Geico ads than anything else. If nothing else, "Pompeii" is never--or at least not consistently--boring and every once in a while, it does belch up one of those moments that bad-movie fanatics will continue to savor long after they have forgotten most of the more respectable and successful films currently in release. Without giving too much away, let me say this--if you liked the finale of "The Postman," you are going to love the final image on display here.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25827&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/20/14 20:32:00
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User Comments

5/21/15 David Hollingsworth brainless piece of crap 1 stars
11/26/14 Lsp4 Only worth it if you can watch it for free 2 stars
11/21/14 jervaise brooke hamster I want to bugger Emily Browning, great movie too. 4 stars
7/30/14 D. The R. Brain-on-standby fun, more than the pompous, insulting-to-historians "Gladiator". 3 stars
6/02/14 loop Rather second rate but has entertainment value here and there 3 stars
2/22/14 action movie fan despite routing story exciting battle scenes and impressive volcanic devastation-worth it 3 stars
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  21-Feb-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 20-May-2014


  DVD: 20-May-2014

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