Disaster pics are picnics for pencil-pushers. Toss in all the plot complications you want, then let the Big Bang (or whatever disaster’s on call) clear the decks. Literally so in something like TITANIC/’97. Scores settled, troubles resolved, Gordian Knot blown to smithereens. So, why is so little going on in ancient Pompeii? With our main characters barely casting shadows on screen, the pissant problems hardly call for end-of-the-world pyrotechnics to sort themselves out. GAME OF THRONES’ Kit Harrington is a near blank as the shortest Gladiator in town, while poor Emily Browning, his upper-crust fate-mate, is not only forced to marry an evil Keifer Sutherland, but to wear Angelina Jolie’s make-up. Sutherland’s villainy is a weightless thing (he’s no Donald Sutherland!), while everyone else wanders about, trying to figure out what movie their role came from. GLADIATOR/’00? SPARTACUS/’60? THE SIGN OF THE CROSS/’32?* That last one, a fine piece of perversity from C. B. DeMille, may have inspired the lackluster special effects. Sure, CGI does wonders for smoke, flames & spewing hunks of Vesuvian lava, but some of those cityscape shots look like miniature models C. B. might have signed off on. They’re kind of cute. Better than the unconvincing falling CGI structures or the typically lousy slice-and-dice fight scenes from megger Paul W.S. Anderson. A specialist in DEATH RACE and RESIDENT EVIL pics, this second attempt at period action expired in theaters without help from any natural disaster.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *DeMille’s SIGN OF THE CROSS has been restored to full Pre-Code naughtiness with no CGI needed for Claudette Colbert’s milk bath or for the twinkle in Charles Laughton’s eye over his Nubian Guards. It’s a delicious absurdity though slow to get going.