Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Legend of Hercules

For F*** Magazine


Director: Renny Harlin
Cast:         Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Liam McIntyre, Rade Serbedzija, Johnathon Schaech, Luke Newberry
Genre: Action, Adventure
Run Time: 100 mins
Opens: 9 January 2014
Rating: PG13 (Violence)

Somewhere in Hollywood exists a fabled well, a fount that has stood for time immemorial. Movie studio executives go to the well to draw “ideas” for new films, and comprising the waters of this spring are stories which have been adapted as many times as there are stars in the sky. Robin Hood, King Arthur, The Three Musketeers, Dracula, Tarzan, Zorro, Alice in Wonderland and of course, Hercules. Later this year, Dwayne Johnson will star in Hercules: The Thracian Wars but first, The Legend of Hercules is unleashed upon the world. Its title is the most inspired thing about it.

It is 1200 B.C. and the tyrannical King Amphitryon (Adkins) is on a spree of conquering neighbouring lands for their wealth. His wife Queen Alcmene (McKee) is aghast at the monster her husband has become and prays to the goddess Hera for someone to take the throne from him. Queen Alcmene is subsequently impregnated by the god Zeus and gives birth to the demigod Hercules, who is named “Alcides” to protect his divine identity. 20 years later, Hercules (Lutz) is in love with the princess Hebe (Weiss), but his conniving mortal half-brother Iphicles (Garrigan) has his sights on her. Amphitryon plots to send Hercules to his death so Iphicles can marry Hebe and ascend the throne. With loyal wingman Sotiris (McIntyre) by his side and with the counsel of the wise Chiron (Serbedzija), Hercules must fight his way back to his kingdom, to his love and to defeat his stepfather and half-brother.

Since cannonballing his career with 1995’s infamous flop Cutthroat Island, director Renny Harlin has never quite recovered, helming such duds as the Sylvester Stallone racing flick Driven, whodunit Mindhunters, supernatural hunk-fest The Covenant and John Cena action vehicle 12 Rounds. With The Legend of Hercules, Harlin doesn’t merely continue his losing streak, he creates an instant classic of the “so bad it’s good” sort. Here we have Clash of the 300 Immortal Spartacii, a film bereft of a single original image or thought, something which makes the re-enactments on the History Channel look high-budget by comparison. Harlin apes the now-tired style popularised by Zack Snyder’s 300, using the ramping effect past the verge of unwitting self-parody. The footage is sloooooweeed dooooowwwwn then spedbackupagain, sloooooweeed dooooowwwwn then spedbackupagain, repeat ad nauseam.

Billed as “the epic origin story of the legend of Hercules”, the film’s delusions of grandeur are frankly adorable. Filmed at the Nu Boyana Film studios in Bulgaria, home to the lowest filmmaking tax rates in Europe, The Legend of Hercules’ production values are of a straight-to-video quality or lower. The Nemean Lion looks like it’s somehow wandered out of a cut-scene from a video game on the PlayStation 2 and the digital matte paintings might as well have been scanned from a storybook. When the Egyptian soldiers clad in Anubis helmets show up, one half expects Arnold Vosloo to pop up and yell “ANCK-SU-NAMUN!” That's to say nothing of the gloriously tin-eared dialogue. Among the many gems are this description of Hercules, as delivered by Hebe: “he’s the reason that I wake up in the morning to embrace the day!” Co-writer Sean Hood is a part-time screenwriting lecturer at the esteemed USC School of Cinematic Arts. Make of that what you will.

Let us preface this paragraph by saying that Kellan Lutz is, by all accounts, a decent guy and this is nothing personal. There’s that out of the way. Our Hercules is the poor man’s Channing Tatum – and here we thought Channing Tatum was the poor man’s Channing Tatum. With his dirty blonde hair, frat boy grin and surfer tan, former Abercrombie and Fitch model Kellan Lutz looks as out of place in the film’s ancient Greek setting as anyone ever has, impressive physique notwithstanding. An alumnus of Summit Entertainment’s most lucrative franchise, Lutz’s attempts at dramatic acting are nothing short of laughable. When Hercules delivers a stock motivational speech to his troops, Lutz renders already-hilarious lines like “tonight we fight, not for what we have, but for that which has been so savagely ripped from our BREASTS!” all the funnier. This guy will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Expendables 3. Gulp.

Gaia Weiss spends most of the film looking tired and playing the weeping damsel pining for her knight in shining armour to the point where one almost expects her to be tied to non-existent ancient Greek train tracks by a moustache-twirling villain in a top hat. Roxanne McKee fares slightly better, affecting a Lena Headey impression, but she’s subjected to the “divine impregnation” scene in which billowing curtains and bed sheets symbolise an invisible Zeus as she writhes and moans in supposed ecstasy. Scott Adkins is an impressive martial artist and fighter, yes, but fails to lend any gravitas or true authoritative menace to his portrayal of King Amphitryon. Liam Garrigan plays the spiteful half-brother with an over-the-top sneer and Johnathon Schaech has no idea what accent he’s going for as the leader of the Egyptian soldiers. Rade Serbedzija cashes a paycheck as “the Obi-Wan” and Sam Worthington clone Liam McIntyre only reminds us that Starz’s Spartacus series did all this far better. So much for not getting typecast.

“Every man has a destiny”, this movie’s tagline tells us. So does every movie, and this movie’s destiny is to become a favourite of beer-fuelled riff parties with friends, the kind of gathering where one gets drunk, heckles the movie and tosses popcorn at the screen with wild abandon. To put things into perspective, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starring Kevin Sorbo is less of a molten fondue cheese-fest than this is. And that was a TV show from the 90s.

SUMMARY: This Hercules doesn’t go the distance, except as a masterpiece of unintentional hilarity.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


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