"Pompeii," a new movie about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., is now playing in theaters. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.
"Pompeii," the new historical-kitsch disaster movie, raises the question: Is there something about ancient settings that inspires actors to act badly? Or is it just that in a movie where everyone knows they're about to be upstaged by a volcano, there's a tendency to either ham it up or fade blankly into the crumbling, melting scenery?
"Pompeii" is set in 79 A.D. in the outlying Roman metropolis that sits just under the gaping crater of Mt. Vesuvius. Most of the film is a chintzy but watchable B-movie knockoff of "Gladiator," with Kit Harington, the English actor from "Game of Thrones," mustering very little in the way of facial expression in the role of Milo, a slave-gladiator whose Celtic family was slaughtered by Corvus, a nasty Roman officer played with smarmy superiority by Kiefer Sutherland.
Harington knows how to handle a broadsword, but mostly he comes off as the English Taylor Kitsch, a glorified fashion model striking Blue Steel poses that smolder boringly. He's supposed to fall for Emily Browning, who plays the princess daughter of Pompeii's leader, played by the always-excellent Jared Harris. Browning looks tiny on screen, but still has a vivid presence, with her cheeks and lips that are one part Geena Davis, one part Angelina Jolie. The romance itself is utterly rote, since the movie is basically foreplay leading up to that lava-spewing eruption.
When Vesuvius finally blows its top, there's a lot of impressive CGI, but the film's innovation is that we don't get rolling rivers of lava. Instead, the volcano spews an endless shower of fiery asteroids, an apocalyptic fireworks show that takes down the city. Walls collapse, buildings collapse, the ground collapses, and it all comes down to Kiefer Sutherland racing away with Emily Browning in his chariot, trailed by Kit Harington on a horse that might as well be a motorcycle.
The end of the film borrows from, of all things, Lars von Trier's "Melancholia," as the spreading fire cloud of Vesuvius consumes everything in its path. Bodies are frozen into sculptures of ash that will last forever. It's supposed to make this love story timeless, but by the end of "Pompeii," you'll be grateful that the movie only lasts 104 minutes.