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The Legend of Hercules

From the director who brought you Cutthroat Island and Exorcist: The Beginning comes…Oh, wait, that doesn’t do it for you, does it? Ahem….

From Renny Harlin, director of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger (ah, that’s better) comes a new sword and sandal epic that tells….oh, I just can’t – this movie sucked. It has unbearably bad acting, laughable dialogue and special effects that aren’t quite ready for PS4. No one should really be all that surprised. After all, it wouldn’t be January without crappy movies.

In 1200 B.C. Ancient Greece, tyrannical monster King Amphitryon (martial arts star, Scott Adkins) concerns himself with slaughtering and conquering other kingdoms. He also concerns himself with screaming at the heavens at night in the pouring rain. It seems like he can go on like this for hours.

Of little concern to this warmonger is his beautiful wife, Queen Alceme (Roxanne McKee), who sired the King's son out of a loveless marriage, Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), who grew up to be a petulant whelp. Frustrated by her husband’s arrogance and cruelty, Alceme prayed to the Gods, despite the reservations of the loyal Chiron (Rade Serberjira, playing a cross between Nana from “Peter Pan” and Batman’s Alfred), and lo and behold she became pregnant.

Who’s the baby daddy? That’d be Zeus. How’d this happen? One rainy night (of course) there was moaning, flowing sheets and a gale of passionate wind in Alcemede’s bedroom and, well….nine months later, baby Hercules was born. That may be the name that the spooky Olympus emissary gave him, but the King named him Alcaeus and moved on, knowing full well he wasn’t dancing in the sheets with his wife nine months prior.

Years later, we find that Alceaus/Hercules (Kellan Lutz) has become a strapping young man – looking as if he modeled for a superhero anatomy book – with zero percent body fat and golden skin. Having grown under the shadow of a dismissive father and jealous half-brother, Hercules manages to find happiness courting Hebe (Gaia Weiss), a Cretan princess who would probably list "frolicking on horseback" and "relaxing near waterfalls" as her Activities & Interests on eHarmony.

Not so fast! Hebe is promised to marry Iphicles, while Alceaus/Hercules is sent off to fight an unknown enemy with Commander Sotiris (Liam McIntyre) and a band of sandaled/armored brothers. The two are ambushed, enslaved and forced into gladiatorial battles for the sake of entertainment.

Going by his true namesake, Hercules becomes a hit amongst the crowds of bloodthirsty spectators, but his only goal is to get back to Hebe and prevent that arranged wedding from happening. He'll have to fight through a myriad of uglies (many of them look like extras from Neil Marshall's Doomsday) and take down Amphitryon and unify the kingdoms with some help from above.

From start to finish, The Legend of Hercules feels like so many other movies and TV series (Spartacus is an obvious influence) of "sword and sandal" variety that have come and gone before it. It wants to be as epic as Gladiator in many ways (with its story following much of the same plot as Ridley Scott's Best Picture winner) and as gritty and graphic as 300. But, it just doesn't cut it.

There's nothing visually captivating here in the sophomoric CGI utilized nor are there any compelling characters or performances. The use of 3D is assaulting to the senses right from the beginning. Instead of immersing viewers in a fully-realized world, arrows and swords are flung at us in a kitchen sink manner. Subtlety isn't one of Harlin's strengths.

Although filmed in Bulgaria, much of the environments and atmosphere feels fake, feeling either like we're watching actors play on a stage set or we're circling in the air around miniature models. Nothing feels real and with most of the movie shot at night, it's hard to make sense of much of the action, let alone who is who.

Harlin stages some cool fight sequences, but the overuse of "speed ramping" and slo-mo action grows tiresome within the first fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, that annoying approach can be seen to the very end. It's as if an eight year-old boy with a remote control continuously fast-forwards and pauses every battle on-screen.

Besides boredom and a derivative storyline, The Legend of Hercules suffers from having a dead-weight in the lead role. Lutz carries either a glazed glare or a snide smirk throughout the movie. Hercules is supposed to be a cocky, courageous and charismatic hero, but this guy just had me falling asleep.

Granted, Hercules has never been played by any Oscar caliber actors (Steve Reeves, Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger), but other than his bulky physique, I cannot figure out why Lutz was cast in the role. He can believably crack a lion's neck, crumble granite pillars with his bare hands, but he cannot carry a movie.

The rest of the cast is there to either look tough or pretty or scream. I don't normally tell moviegoers to steer clear of the movies I review, but I'll make an exception here.

Regardless, there are people who will see this because they're action movie fans or they're fans of Lutz and his supposed hotness. I have more trust and respect for you, dear reader. This is one of many "sword and sandal" movies coming out this year, if you include the three Biblical epics getting released in theaters. I can't believe it, but this movie actually has me looking forward to Brett Ratner's Hercules movie coming out in July, because I'll take a bearded Dwayne Johnson over all of this nonsense in a heartbeat.

(This review also appears on David's own website, Keeping It Reel.)

David J. Fowlie

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