RATING: 1 star (out of 4)
Ever see a movie so awful you wish a ginormous volcano would blow up, ending it all and setting you free? Pompeii doesn’t do much right, but at least it manages that welcome feat.
You’d think a story based on the catastrophe that saw Mount Vesuvias engulf a Roman city in the year 79 would be a bit of a letdown, and you’d be correct. A lowly Gladiator clone, the movie is the cinematic equivalent of fiery spewing lava that engulfs all semblance hope and joy, smothering you in the grisly reality that life is meaningless and the elements could swallow you whole at any time. Real heartwarmer, this one.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson is known for his 75 soul-destroying Resident Evil flicks, and in fact is a resident evil himself as the Mount Vesuvias of the film industry. Kit Harington–flushing away much of the goodwill he’s created by bringing Jon Snow to life in Game of Thrones–plays a slave child who becomes a pugilist who goes by the coliseum name The Celt. He schemes to overthrow the crushing power of the evil Senator (Kiefer Sutherland) while romancing a hot princess that (Emily Browning) the Senator would like to quorum for himself.
The Senator deserves the indignity because he’s the one who slaughtered all of The Celt’s people, making him the Celt and not just “a” Celt. You know how these things go. The Celt, despite being a rather scrawny twerp, has the Batman-like ability to beat up dozens of dudes at the same time. The Senator thinks it would be a great idea to have the princess sit by him in his luxury box and watch The Celt get slaughtered by swarms of centurions. Guess how well that plan turns out?
Throughout the lame cookie-cutter travesty, about the only interesting thing going on is that Vesuvias rumbles every now and again, forcing people to stop reciting their dull, uninspired lines and stare over at it, wondering if they should leave. Horror movies are famed for making you scream at characters who ignore blatant warnings of their impending demise, but there’s no one in this movie likable enough to merit yelling at the screen. You’re cool with them just staying around and getting volcanoed, sooner rather than later.
Things get even sillier later on, when the volcano starts blowing its load and people not only don’t pay attention to it, but start prison-fighting each other, jumping into craters, and staring off into space as they deliver lengthy vagina monologues about what it all means. When the big one hits, Anderson loses his nerve, refusing to show the poorly-rendered CGI annihilation of innocents and framing the movie as though the few central characters are the only ones in the city. The movie’s one hook was its unspeakable, gotta-see-it-to-believe spectacle, but the explosion is less like a Fourth of July grand finale and more like a squeaky dud quickly forgotten in the night sky.
If you find yourself sucked into a showing of Pompeii, take the sage wisdom of the band Pompeii and just close your eyes. Some ear plugs wouldn’t hurt either.
Starring Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss, Kiefer Sutherland and Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje. Written by Janet Scott Bachler, Lee Batchler, Julian Fellowes and Michael Robert Johnson. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Rated PG-13. 104 minutes.