Don’t pay for Pompeii

I don’t think people act heroic or gushingly romantic in cataclysmic situations. Small scale sure. (Think car crash house on fire.) Spewing volcano? No way. Unlike the heroes in Pompeii you wouldn’t stop for a long wet and tongue-y goodbye kiss before being consumed by smouldering ash; you’d probably scream and pee your pants.

Unlike the true story it’s based on Pompeii gives its characters just enough time to fight seek revenge and secure romances before death by volcano. The film is a typical disaster movie crossed with an old melodramatic swords-and-sandals matinee. It’s indistinguishable from CGI-laden flicks like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow — disaster porn that attempts to humanize catastrophe and fails miserably.

In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius (located in the gulf of Naples Italy) erupted and destroyed the city of Pompeii. (Spoiler alert: everyone died.) The film opens with Roman general Biggus Dickus or something (okay his name is actually Corvus) played by an awesome hilariously terrible Kiefer Sutherland as he slaughters a tribe of Celtic peasants. You can differentiate the two by costume: the Romans are ornately covered in gold and purple with big blankets heaped on their shoulders; the slaves wear furry vests and Uggs.

He forgot to kill one of the Celts a decision that totally comes back to bite him in the ass later. Seventeen years later to be exact: young Milo ( Game of Thrones ’ Kit Harington) survived the butchering of his people only to become an enslaved gladiator. He befriends a fellow gladiator (played by Oz ’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the two plan their escape.

Meanwhile Corvus seeks the hand of the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning). She can’t stand Dickus but is forced to concede to his slimy sexual intentions when the lives of her parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss) are threatened. Seems Rome has an uneasy relationship with the city of Pompeii and Cassia’s dad needs loads of cash to build a new stadium. He sells his daughter’s ass faster than you can say “spaghetti and meatballs.”

All of the characters are set to square off when the big one hits. The volcano erupts in all its CGI glory with flaming boulders fiery ashes earthquakes and even a tsunami decimating the city. People die quickly though not so horribly (PG thrills all the way). None of it really matters; every character is barely realized or completely vile. It’s a fatal flaw; everyone in the film is doomed and without anyone to root for you spend your time mentally crossing characters off the dead/not dead list. Admittedly Sutherland’s tongue-tied Roman (he sounds like he’s speaking with a pair of broken dentures) is sleazy and fun. It’s the kind of performance where you can feel the actor’s seething resentment towards the movie and presumably the audience.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil movies AVP: Alien vs. Predator ) keeps it all chugging along nicely; at least it comes in at a brisk hour and 45 minutes. There’s lots of slow-motion carnage set to pounding drums and ghostly Enya-like singing. Delicate floating ashes look lovely in 3D but after an hour the rest of it — tiny characters running from certain death collapsing buildings and burning boats — all coalesce into a heap of pixelated junk. Why audiences have a bottomless thirst for these kinds of depressing shitty computer-programmed disaster flicks I’ll never understand. Deep Impact Dante’s Peak The Core Volcano and Poseidon : all terrible. It’s unnecessary. Done right you can yield a film like 2012’s The Impossible which turned a disaster flick into a humane story of real-life tragedy and hope. Demand more my fellow moviegoers.

Pompeii isn’t any better or worse than that old PC game Age of Empires set to the soundtrack of Celtic Woman . Best enjoyed five years from now on TBS.