'Pompeii': Lava means never having to say you're sorry

Posted: February 21, 2014

AS SOMEONE who's spent the last week frantically putting pots underneath leaks dripping from my flat roof, I'm at a loss to explain the behavior of people in "Pompeii."

As they go about their normal, 79 AD business of wearing togas and peeling grapes and complaining about Roman rule, the earth will suddenly tremble, and tiles will fall from the ceiling. There is a pause, a few casual, "probably nothing" looks upward, then it's back to business.


No one's the least bit bothered by these events and their possible relationship to the nearby volcano?

Cool customers, those Pompeiians. Or perhaps their attention is on their 79 AD super bowl, a gladiator smackdown featuring local favorites and bad-asses imported from the far reaches of the Roman empire.

"Game of Thrones" refugee Kit Harington stars as Milo, a Celtic fighter/slave brought in to battle the city's most fearsome gladiator, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a fellow only one victory away from winning his freedom.

Milo and Atticus share quarters and trade macho barbs, and Milo catches the eye of patrician heiress Cassia (Emily Browning), herself coveted by a Roman general (Kiefer Sutherland) who bullies her parents (Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss) to get his way.

Through it all, Vesuvius rumbles in the background, omen of inevitable disaster. But it's not the only festering catastrophe. Here's another: consigning Moss to motherhood.

Too soon, if you ask me, for Moss to trade her "Matrix" jumpsuit for the billowing toga of the matron. But a good mother she is, protecting Cassia from the grasping clutches of the Roman and indulging her daughter's feelings for handsome Milo, who takes Cassia riding atop her prized white stallion.

It's that kind of movie - cornball foreground, CGI volcano looming in the background, all straight from the Irwin Allen playbook, augmented here with modern 3D (from old 3D hand Paul W.S. Anderson, of the "Resident Evil" movies).

Instead of Charlton Heston, though, we have Harington, who looks rather slight for a gladiator. One fears for his chances against Atticus, though that fear abates as they become respectful foes and, finally, friends. You see the shameless nods to Ridley Scott's "Gladiator," and there are more on the way in a big finale in the city's arena.

"Pompeii"stays unoriginal until the very end, when it finally does something unexpected and, in doing so, becomes a disaster movie that's not a complete disaster itself.

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