Kit Harington and Emily Browning have about one facial expression between them as star-crossed lovers in this empty epic
That rumbling sound you hear is the angry spirit of Irwin Allen, the man behind such 1970s catastrophe-classics as “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” but there aren't enough sacrifice-able virgins in the world to make “Pompeii” an appeasing offering to the disaster-movie gods.
This team-up between the director of “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” (Paul W.S. Anderson) and the star of “Sucker Punch” (Emily Browning) is as awful as you feared it might be, although there's at least some camp value in watching Kiefer Sutherland froth at the mouth as a very Billy Zane-like Roman bigwig.
This is, after all, “Titanic” with lava instead of ice, a tale of two pretty young people from different castes who discover their perfect love just as their world is about to go to hell, and even those who hated James Cameron‘s hit romance will find themselves thinking more kindly of it after they watch Browning and Kit Harington moon over each other with one facial expression between them.
Browning stars as Cassia, who returns from Rome to Pompeii to see her parents Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Severus (Jared Harris), not knowing that Severus is caught up in some sort of real-estate deal with the insidious Corvus (Sutherland). As it turns out, Corvus had, years earlier, slain a village of horseback-riding warriors; the tribe's sole survivor Milo was enslaved as a child and trained as a gladiator.
The now grown-up Milo (Harington) has arrived in Pompeii, where he's expected to battle Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); the latter gets stuck with a lot of leftover Danny Glover dialogue from the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, since Atticus will supposedly gain his freedom if he can win just one more battle, which is the gladiator equivalent of being two days from retirement.
And as they say in really bad novels: Suddenly, the volcano erupted. And admittedly, as on-screen carnage goes, the CG destruction of “Pompeii” is reasonably entertaining, especially if you like watching groups of extras run around aimlessly in a panic while fake villas go up in a fireball.
This is the sort of disposable epic that they churned out cheaply in Europe in the 1950s and then overdubbed badly for the U.S. market in the hopes of tearing people away from their television sets. Now that those sets are 96 inches and connected to Blu-ray players that have the same 4K resolution that theaters offer, we're getting this movie all over again, in 3D, no less.
If only “Pompeii” had been entrusted to a more entertaining hack than Anderson; this is the guy, after all, who decided that “The Three Musketeers” really needed a blimp battle. The characters (from the script by Scott Batchler & Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson) are paper-thin, so wiping them out with a volcano seems like overkill, to say the least.
Of course, volcanoes wound up being a challenge even to Irwin Allen, whose theatrical career was done in by 1980's lava-spewing flop “When Time Ran Out.” Next time, bring the disaster-movie gods a groovier offering, preferably in Sensurround.