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Pompeii' a cinematic disaster

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Erstwhile epic falls flat on all fronts

When I first heard that a movie called 'Pompeii' was coming, I was curious as to what kind of film it would be. Would it be a thoughtful attempt at reconstructing the last days of a doomed city? Perhaps it would be a historical take on the standard disaster movie?

Then I heard that Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson) was directing; what would the auteur behind such gems as 'Alien vs. Predator' and the 'Resident Evil' films bring to the table?

If you guessed a low-rent 'Gladiator' knockoff with a volcano in it, you're the big winner.

Milo (Kit Harrington; TV's 'Game of Thrones') is the last surviving member of a Celtic clan slaughtered by Roman forces led by Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland; TV's 'Touch'). Milo was just a boy when he watched his family die, but he has since grown into a legendary combatant in the gladiatorial arena; he is known simply as 'the Celt.'

Milo's owner ships him out to the bigger, brighter arenas of Pompeii. On the road, he inadvertently encounters Cassia (Emily Browning; 'Plush'), the daughter of Severus (Jared Harris; 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones') and Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss; 'Compulsion'), rulers of Pompeii. Of course, the two lock eyes and he treats a horse humanely and so obviously she thinks he's just the best.

Milo winds up locked in the arena dungeon with the reigning gladiatorial champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje; 'Thor: The Dark World') and the two men form an uneasy friendship based solely on the inevitability of one eventually killing the other.

But then Corvus shows up in Pompeii. It turns out that Cassia left Rome because of Corvus's roaming hands, but now the senator controls the fate of Pompeii's economic redevelopment. Corvus sees the connection between Cassia and Milo and takes it upon himself to ensure that the slave will no longer be a threat to his desires.

Meanwhile, Mount Vesuvius has been acting up all this time, causing small earthquakes and the like. Milo and Cassia must try to find a way to escape both the clutches of the sinister senator and the raining hellfire of the volcano's eruption so that they can be together forever this despite knowing each other for the equivalent of about five minutes.

My only regret is that Vesuvius took so damned long to erupt.

Just because shoehorning a love story narrative into a preexisting disaster has worked well before thanks for nothing, James Cameron doesn't mean it will work again. 'Pompeii' could have been called 'Ancient Roman Volcanotown' and it wouldn't have made a speck of difference; frankly, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Naming the film after a real place would seem to indicate at least a modicum of historical accuracy, but what little story there is could have taken place anywhere.

The love story is forced and clichd, with zero chemistry between Harrington and Browning. It's too bad that this mediocrity is Harrington's leading man debut; he's usually quite good. Kiefer Sutherland chews the scenery like it's made out of Juicy Fruit, while Harris and Moss spend most of their time looking like they've somehow been tricked into appearing in this film.

Don't get me wrong there's an undeniable joy in watching Jon Snow and Mr. Echo gladiator the ever-loving crap out of a few dozen armed soldiers. And the volcano effects when they finally arrive are interesting to watch, though the CGI isn't particularly crisp. But one good fight scene and a half-hour of fire from the sky does not make for a fully-realized viewing experience.

By the time the volcano the obvious main draw of a movie called 'Pompeii' finally erupts, you'll be more than happy to watch the world burn.

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