With apologies to Billy Shakespeare, I have not come to praise “Pompeii” but to bury it, preferably under a mile of lava.
For starters, the film rips off so many other movies it should be arrested for grand larceny. “Gladiator,” “Titanic,” “Independence Day,” “The Impossible” even “The Horse Whisperer.” The movie doesn’t contain one original thought. It basically exists to showcase the volcanic destruction of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., proving that “location, location, location” should have been a catchphrase for Roman real estate agents back in the day.
To the film’s credit, this digital annihilation does provide a visceral kick to the toga even if the fiery rocks resemble the alien blasts from “Independence Day” and the tsunami – yes, the film has one of those, too – looks like a watered-down – sorry – version of the killer tidal wave in “The Impossible.”
All could have been forgiven – well, maybe not all – if director Paul W.S. Anderson, the auteur behind the “Resident Evil” films, had focused on this cataclysmic event or even remotely followed the Robert Harris novel upon which the film is allegedly based. Instead, screenwriters Janet Scott and Lee Batchler (the far from dynamic duo behind “Batman Forever”) and Michael Robert Johnson craft a story that becomes more ludicrous with each advancing scene.
We begin with the Romans viciously quashing the rebellion of the Celtic horse tribes in what is now northern England. The massacre is led by Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who gets to utter his favorite line: “Kill them, kill them all!” His henchman Proculus (Sasha Roiz) gladly obeys. A young boy (Dylan Schombing) watches in a catatonic state as these Romans slaughter his family. Flash forward 17 years and the boy is now Milo (Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones” fame), a slave with magnificent abs, superb fighting skills and a serious attitude. His talent for brutal combat gets him transferred to Pompeii. While on his way there, Milo shows his sensitive side when a horse transporting Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is injured in an accident. He whispers something to the animal and then snaps its neck. Mr. Ed, don’t watch this movie. The gesture, however, puts the horse out of its misery and, more importantly, impresses Cassia. Think she’ll become smitten with Milo, even if he demonstrates all the emotional range of a kumquat?
Now where, tell me where have we seen the story of a poor boy and a rich girl falling in love with disaster on the horizon? Wait, I can hear Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” in a tunic.
Anyway, once in Pompeii, Milo meets a fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and they become friends despite the fact that a battle to the death looms for the pair. Atticus believes that if he wins he will become a free man. By the way, any similarities to Atticus and Djimon Hounsou’s Juba in “Gladiator” is purely coincidental.
Page 2 of 2 - Then, you’ll never guess who shows up in Pompeii? No, it’s not Sasquatch. It’s Corvus, who is now a powerful senator and who seems intent to prove he’s a much nastier dude than Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus in “Gladiator.” He has met Cassia before in Rome and she rejected his overtures then and she does so now. But he won’t take no for an answer and applies pressure on her parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Ann Moss) to agree to the union – or else.
In the meantime, Vesuvius starts getting cranky, and just in case you’re not aware of the impending doom, Anderson repeatedly shows the smoldering volcano.
But before all heck can break loose, Milo and Atticus form a tag team and beat the salami out of an army of Roman soldiers. As he demonstrated in “Resident Evil,” “Mortal Kombat” and “AVP: Alien Vs. Predator,” Anderson knows how to film such violence. It’s just everything else he has a problem with.
Case in point, the concluding scene where our lovers try to escape Vesuvius’ wrath is truly laughable.
The only actor who doesn’t embarrass himself here is Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who looks like he could be a gladiator and, more importantly, doesn’t look like he’s bored out of his mind.
Expect “Pompeii” to be treated as a guilty pleasure by many, and it has that going for it, I suppose, but did it have to be guilty of such shoddiness? It boggles the mind to consider that Roman Polanski was originally attached to turn Harris’ novel into a movie. Polanski vs. Anderson. That’s like putting Vesuvius up against an erupting pimple.
“Pompeii’’ is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and stars Kit Harington, Emily Browning and Kiefer Sutherland. It is rated PG-13 and 105 minutes long. Grade: C.