Ashes to Ashes—The 3D Edition

AP Images/FEREX

Is Pompeii worth two hours of any sentient adult's time? It's definitely a waste of your hard-earned leisure cash, but that's not quite the same question.  I don't know what sort of value you put on your time when you're in a mood to savor dumbness so unalloyed it's like a throwback to the dawn of cheesy movies.  

I'm not sure I can improve on the studio's own deadpan plot summary: "Set in 79 A.D., Pompeii tells the epic story of Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned invincible gladiator who finds himself in a race against time to save his true love Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts in a torrent of blazing lava, Milo must fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him." Translation: Spartacus meets Titanic.  Do I even need to mention that this thing is in 3-D?

Starting with the casting of diminutive Game of Thrones vet Harington, whose eyes resemble two sad M&Ms left out in the rain, as an "invincible" gladiator—and one named Milo, to boot—the movie is at home with its own preposterousness in a way that leaves Clash of The Titans looking marred by its futile attempts at cinema verite.  A prologue set during (honest) "The Rebellion of The Celtic Horse Tribes" fills us in on how young Milo witnessed his clan's slaughter at the hands of wicked Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his lieutenant Proculus (Sasha Roiz; just picture Paul Ryan wearing a giant salmon-mousse mold as chest armor, and you'll get the idea) before being enslaved and raised to, um. . . gladiate?  Soon Milo's martial prowess gets him plucked from Londinium's fleapit arenas and shuffling off to the Pompeiian big time in chains, running into our nubile heroine's carriage on the way.  Since her eyes resemble two Necco wafers left out in the rain, we know they're made for each other.

Who else wants to get his mitts on Cassia, though? That conniving bastard Corvus, natch, who's popped down from Rome to dicker with her dad (Mad Men alum Jared Harris, who looks like he'd be happier hanging himself with his toga) about investing in a humongous new colosseum complex that's sure to turn Pompeii into Fun City for real—that is, unless Mt. Vesuvius, belching away in the background like John Goodman after too much pastrami, has anything to say about it. Meanwhile, Milo is bonding with an imposing fellow gladiator named Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a/k/a Lost's Mr. Eko)  he's scheduled to face in the ring.  The brain-dead mimicry of Spartacus—when Woody Strode played Akinnuoye-Agbaje's part opposite Kirk Douglas—is, shall we say, slavish.

Best known for Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, the director, Paul W.S. Anderson, is an old hand at cretinism.  He knows it doesn't matter much what these folks brawl or blather on about as they mark time until John Goodman vomits forth deadly pastrami, which happens right after Milo and Atticus battle a horde of opponents for Corvus's pleasure (the sequence that's the most dimwit fun, actually: Charlton Heston could roll through the carnage in his old Ben-Hur chariot without attracting much attention). Then: rumble, rumble.  Pastrami, pastrami! And a whole slew of shameless chase scenes, mortal combats, tumbling CGI masonry, and unlikely reunions—my favorite being when two characters on separate missions agree to meet again "at the harbor," oblivious to the fact that the city's whole population is headed the same way—until everybody's hash is settled.

It may go without saying that—with the exception of Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who retains his poise, and a couple of horses who pull off the equine equivalent—the acting is awful and the dialogue consists of one clunker after another. Yet how would good acting or dialogue be an improvement? Odds are that either would just get in the way.They don't make bad movies like they used to either, and this one's exhilaratingly old-fashioned crumminess is aesthetically far preferable to the fake-prestigious gloss of, say, Ridley Scott's Gladiador, from which people—including the Oscar voters who named it Best Picture—emerged under the impression they'd seen something worth taking seriously. When you buy a ticket to a movie called Pompeii, expecting art or even brains would be fatuous; what you want is a good time.  Sue me for confessing I had one. 

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