Monday, November 14, 2016

Roman Holiday

Maybe it all began with Sonic the Hedgehog, but I've always found volcanoes to be, rather naturally, absolutely horrific. The Pompeii eruption that destroyed an entire city way back when is certainly good fodder for the big budget treatment. All it needed, apparently, was a lot of abs.

Quick Plot: It's 500 A.D., and unless you're a miscast Kiefer Sutherland playing a Roman senator, life sucks.

Slaves are sent to the gladiator arenas to die in forgettable glory.

Business folks are forced to make bad deals to secure some kind of stability.

Hot daughters of business people must marry miscast Kiefer Sutherlands.

Oh, and there's a massive volcano set to destroy the entire city via lava, tidal waves, earth fractures, fireballs, rubble collapses, and unhinged miscast Kiefer Sutherlands.

Can anyone catch a break?

Pompeii is a big budget disaster pic that basically asks the question, how can we squeeze a PG-13 rated Gladiator into 100 minutes of Independence Day (or 2012, or whatever your modern CGI-infused apocalypse is of choice). Directed by Resident Evil godfather Paul W.S. Anderson, it tells an extremely familiar story with streamlined efficiency. Consider the cast of characters:
Handsome hero with a childhood grudge, insanely chiseled physique, and secret heart of gold

Lovable sidekick who will start out as our handsome hero's rival before accepting a supporting role and sacrificing himself for the whiter handsome hero he recently befriended

Beautiful poor little rich girl with a conscience and amazing ability to keep her pre-Cover Girl makeup perfectly smudge-proof

Evil, just unrepentant evil villain and his taller right hand man

Everyone's mostly British, because, you know, OLD TIMES. All the villains get their comeuppance, all the helpful but less white supporting cast member die semi-heroically, and the booming soundtrack pauses not once but TWICE when our handsome hero upon his horse has to leap over what could be certain death, only to land safely and cue up the horn section with his triumph.

You don't go into Pompeii expecting innovation. You expect, and receive, all the grape-chewing baddie sneers, the impossible combat scenes that only our hero and sidekick can survive, and computer printed lava raining down upon scores of extras wearing recycled garbs from Rome. To its credit, the movie doesn't really wimp out on delivering the complete wipe-out of a city and its people. There's no Pierce Brosnan or Tommy Lee Jones dispatched to evacuate a plucky band of deserving survivors. This is a historic volcano that annihilated everything in its path.

But hey, the people are still really, really pretty. And the not-quite Spartacus gladiator scenes are sort of the equivalent of saying, "I love a fine boiled lobster served with garlic mashed potatoes in a five-star restaurant but can also enjoy Long John Silver's deep fried cod and basic french fries." This movie isn't better than it could have been, but it's as good as it should have been for being, you know, a mid-big budget PG-13 historical action romp about a volcano.

High Points
Considering the bulk of IMDB's trivia section focuses on it, I don't see why I shouldn't: Kit Harington is typically weighed down by furs and Night's Watch robes on Game of Thrones, so while it may sound crass and shallow to compliment his inhuman 12-pack of a stomach, Pompeii's lingering camera gaze practically begs anyone watching with eyes to say, "wow, that dude really worked out for this movie."

Low Points
It seems like there should be an edict against casting Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss and not giving either anything interesting to do

Lessons Learned
It is shockingly possible to pick a lock with a splinter while chained to a carriage going at least 35 MPH

A man who cries is a man who cannot haggle

Ravenousing (i.e., acting dead when mistakenly tossed in a giant pile of corpses and waiting hours to emerge) is a time honored tactic for surviving massacres

Look, Pompeii isn't a good film, but it's fun and knows exactly what its audience wants. The DVD includes a bevvy of deleted scenes, so a cheap or rented copy won't bore you too badly.

Plus, this:

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