Friday, January 10, 2014

Day 271: The Legend of Hercules

"It's a boy sire. A fine, large boy."
Mythical figure Hercules doesn't exactly have the most prestigious history on film with his screen exploits ranging from the absurd yet entertaining Steve Reeves films of the late 1950s to the absurd yet entertaining Hercules in New York that launched the acting career of Arnold Schwarzenneger. Even Walt Disney Animation's 1997 Hercules film is one of the weakest efforts of their 90s renaissance, meaning that the demigod has a less than stellar track record on film. The announcement of dueling Hercules films in 2014 was greeted more or less with apathy from the moviegoing public, if for no other reason than the fact that the one everyone was looking forward to was being directed by Brett Ratner. The first film out of the gate this year though is director Renny Harlin's The Legend of Hercules, which the trailers led people to believe would be nothing more than a $70 million write down for Summit Entertainment. Could it rise above those awful trailers and actually deliver something worthwhile? Read on to find out..
The film opens with what sounds like a toilet flushing, but actually turns out to be a siege of the city of Argos led by King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins). After defeating the king of Argos in hand to hand combat, Amphitryon takes over rule of the city, expanding his empire much to the chagrin of his wife Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee). Alcmene, against the wishes of her husband, calls on help from Zeus to teach her husband a lesson, and is told by a prophet that she will bear the child of Zeus that prophecy has foretold will end Amphitryon's reign of tyranny. After being impregnated by the wind, Alcmene gives birth to a baby boy that Amphitryon names Alcides, but whom his mother calls Hercules.
Now a man Alcides (Kellan Lutz) finds himself falling for Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss) of Crete, and in a constant rivalry with his older brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan). After defying his father and brother, Alcides is sent to fight alongside eighty other soldiers, commanded by Sotiris (Liam McIntyre), and when word reaches that he has been killed in battle, Amphitryon pledges that his surviving son Iphicles will marry Hebe. Alcides survives however, and is sold into slavery, taking the name Hercules and becoming an ace combatant alongside Sotiris, the only other member of the army who survived. Together, they pledge to return to Argos and reclaim Hercules' birthright, fulfilling the ancient prophecy.
Just writing all that was exhausting, and it only covers about the first forty minutes of the movie. To say that this film moves at a snail's pace is an insult to the rapid speed with which those mollusks travel. The film is absolutely interminable and has absolutely no momentum to it whatsoever, making it quickly devolve from so bad it's good to so bad it's unwatchable. The first ten minutes are a laugh riot of overacting and shouting, most of it courtesy of Scott Adkins who mistakes speaking loudly for emoting. Once the film jumps forward to cover the adventures of the adult Hercules played by Kellan Lutz, all of the air is sucked out of the room and it's a long, slow slog through a dozen tropes and mimicries of much better films. 
Renny Harlin could never be accused of being a master action director, but he's managed a handful of competently made films like Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Here he seems content to crib from films as diverse as 300 (slowed down then sped up shots), Lawrence of Arabia (an interminable sequence in the desert, shot and scored like borderline plagiarism), Goodfellas (dolly shot around characters having a conversation), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (every arena fight sequence), Gladiator (every arena fight sequence), Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (every arena fight sequence) and every film that's ever featured a reluctant hero rallying his troops with a speech that sums up what they're about to fight and possibly die for. It's not that this film merely has no identity, it's that it wants to simultaneously be a dozen other films, and fails to focus on anything for more than five minutes, proven by his proclivity for cutting away to the same establishing shot of the castle at Argos anytime the story moves back there.
It doesn't help matters that he cast a lead actor with all the charisma of a wet dish rag. Kellan Lutz may get teenage girls all hot and bothered in the Twilight movies, but his patented inability to emote or deliver lines with any conviction behind the words makes him a laughable leading man. He creates a vacuum at the center of this film with his stupid metrosexual stubble that either can't or just plain doesn't grow into a full beard over the course of the month in which this film takes place. I felt legitimately bad for Liam McIntyre who plays most of his scenes opposite this chiseled mass of machismo because the poor guy is acting his little heart out and getting nothing back from his co-star. Pardon the football analogy here, but Kellan Lutz is the Ryan Leaf of action movies.
As for the rest of the cast, it's a mixed bag of people trying too hard or not at all, and I don't blame anyone on either side of that divide. Adkins all but foams at the mouth with every line delivery, trying his damnedest to get this thing cooking, but it's all for naught. Liam Garrigan looks like a low rent Jude Law who watched Joaquin Phoenix's performance in Gladiator and said to himself "screw it, I'll just do that." My favorite performance in the film by a mile comes courtesy of Jonathon Schaech, another actor who has matinee good looks but a dearth of talent to back them up. Here he's outfitted with ridiculous cornrows and an accent that sounds like a piss poor Bela Lugosi impression, which are both so wildly misguided that you can't help but laugh along with a guy who's clearly messing with the audience. 
The biggest issue with the film, as if to suggest there might be only one, is the PG-13 rating. The absolutely bloodless violence makes the film even worse somehow, as the comically absurd cutaways from various stab wounds and decapitations make the film somehow more inept that it already was. I'm no gore hound, believe me, but I'm even more turned off by a director's obvious attempts to secure a PG-13 rating for a film no one was going to go see in the first place, let alone teenagers who'd rather buy a ticket for this and sneak into Wolf of Wall Street to see Leo snorting coke out of a hooker's ass. It's a cop-out on top of an already poorly made film and it only makes the whole thing seem worse as a result.  
Had anyone involved in the making of The Legend of Hercules just stopped for one second to consider the possibility that a few tweaks could have made this a camp classic, the film would be infinitely better than it is in its current state; I mean, a woman gets raped by the wind for Christ's sake. Instead it manages to be the worst film in a genre full of filmmakers falling all over themselves to create the next 300, which I hate to say wasn't a very good movie in the first place. As it stands now, however, I cannot recommend this even as a guilty pleasure because there's absolutely nothing pleasurable about it. It's a cheap looking, vapid, soulless film that demonstrates nothing other than it's own inability to have something new, different or original to bring to the table. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but at this point, it would be impossible for Brett Ratner to direct a worse film than this one.

GO Rating: 1/5

[Photos via RottenTomatoes]

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