Paul W.S. Anderson’s new poo is stinky, molten mush

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

(opens Friday 21)
1.5 out of 5

It’s amazing that a consistently execrable filmmaker like Paul W.S. Anderson can score massive budgets from studios on a regular basis. Just in the past decade, Anderson has unleashed two Resident Evil flicks, a very loose adaptation of The Three Musketeers and a politically correct remake of the cheerfully disreputable Death Race.

All were mostly crap.

His flicks are always trashed by critics, which I’m sure he’s okay with. But it’s the (failed) ambition Anderson puts into his movies that makes things even more painful. The Three Musketeers, for example, was a massive, gender-bending enterprise, but lacked even a speck of cohesiveness.

He’s clearly learned nothing from that experience, judging by the sprawling, dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers Pompeii.

In the midst of the Roman Empire’s campaign in Britain, a vicious officer named Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) butchers an entire Celtic town to quash a rebellion. Corvus leaves one survivor, a kid (Kit Harington, Jon Snow in Game of Thrones) who’s quickly sold to a guy who promotes gladiator events.

Years later, the boy has grown into “The Kelt,” a strapping young lad, fearsome slayer and part-time horse whisperer. His growing popularity gets him into competitions in Pompeii, a holiday resort for rich and famous Romans.

The Kelt finds two things in Pompeii: a lovely aristocrat (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch) who takes a shine to him, and the dastardly Corvus, now a senator who’s plotting against the Emperor. Among power struggles, puppy love and surprisingly bloodless duels, no one in all of Pompeii seems to notice the smouldering volcano in the background — which is about to turn them all into ash statues.

Pompeii desperately aspires to be the next Titanic but it lacks even the most basic ingredients of decent filmmaking. And the acting is horrendous across the board: Harington (long known as the weakest link of Game of Thrones) and Browning are so bland, it’s hard to become invested in their whirlwind relationship.

Obviously, a film titled Pompeii lives and dies on the strength of the eruption — but even that isn’t up to par. For 75 minutes you won’t see a drop of lava reaching the city, which is a problem when the drama is derivative and the dialogue is painful. Somehow, it took four screenwriters (including Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellows) to come up with lines such as “looks like my little girl is now a woman.” Ick, ick, ick.

In order to trick as many people as possible into the theatre, Pompeii is ostensibly a PG affair. The strategy backfires, as we only get a sanitized version of the events: a lot of running and screaming, but surprisingly little carnage. Moviegoers looking for thrills will feel cheated. What’s left is like Spartacus, minus everything that’s good about that film.

At times, I wondered if Paul W.S. Anderson’s “research” included a visit to Wikipedia. Based on the fat patrician eating grapes at the coliseum, I imagine the answer is no.