Pompeii (12A, 104 mins)
Pompeii (12A, 104 mins)
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
It's been quite a while since we had a proper, no-holds-barred, so-bad-it-might-actually-be-a-work-of-genius turkey like Pompeii.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson is no stranger to stinkers, but for all that Pompeii is dumb, clichéd and essentially po-faced gibberish, you can't really take your eyes off it. Partly that's to do with just how great it looks, with $100m worth of computer generated goodness up on screen, but mostly it's thanks to one spectacularly misconceived performance that could see the film flourish as a camp classic.
It begins in Britannia in 62AD as young Milo sees his parents murdered by conquering Romans, led by Kiefer Sutherland's nasty general, Corvus. Cut to 17 years on, and Milo is a slave in Rome and played by Game of Thrones' Kit Harington.
Known as The Celt because of where he hails from, he and we are thrown into the standard slave-turned-gladiator shenanigans, before a trip south to Pompeii. Here Milo encounters nobleman's daughter Cassia (Emily Browning) thanks to some silly business about him being good with horses.
They take a bit of a fancy to each other while in the background there's some politicking going on between Cassia's father (Jared Harris, who has the dubious honour of getting to say the movie's worst line) and Corvus, now a senator, who also has his eye on Cassia.
Lots of gladiatorial action takes up the first half, but it's done in such a tame and bloodless way that any excitement or thrill is drained. On the plus side, very nice computer generated locations mean that Pompeii is quite gorgeous to look at. Unfortunately it's just painful to listen to, with honking dialogue making it turgid for long stretches.
But let's not forget there's also the small matter of nearby Vesuvius, and the famous volcano is about to blow its top. From this point Pompeii largely follows the Titanic template of the rich girl and the bit of rough trying to make their romance work while doom impends.
When it finally arrives, the spectacle is terrific, and the sight of torrents of fireballs and ash raining down on Pompeii is lavishly rendered. But without the basic requirement of characters worth rooting for, it means Pompeii is barely even serviceable as a disaster movie.
Punishingly bland actors in Harington and Browning don't help with that. Luckily to counteract this we've got Sutherland to catch the eye, adding several layers of bubbling cheese alongside what may or may not be an English accent in one of the most overripe and out of place turns in an age. He's so mesmerisingly terrible that he single-handedly lifts the film from one-star ignominy to two-star, so-bad-you-can't-really-miss-it ignominy.
See it if you liked: The Legend of Hercules, Gladiator, Volcano
Blue Ruin (15, 90 mins)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Dwight is a drifter, living in his car and scavenging for food when he finds out from the police that someone is going to be released from prison who may pose him a danger. In the interests of keeping the remainder of a twisting plot under wraps, let's just say that danger does indeed get posed, with Dwight having to decide if he should run or hide or get himself a gun. An unconventional leading man in Macon Blair makes Dwight a hard character to pin down, and with little clue given as to what the plot is going to be, backstory is teased out as layers of threat are added. What works most about Blue Ruin is that it lives in that place that films don't normally go; the aftermath of the aftermath of a crime. It's a moody piece, a bleak indie noir about the consequences of violence, telling as much as possible without words, and punctuated with startling brutality as events start to take their course. It's unusual in that no one is a professional at what they do, so what might be slick in another film is messy and pathetic here. The odd splash of grim humour helps quite a bit in a slightly wayward middle, one that loses sight of the big picture before being bolstered by a strong finish.
See it if you liked: Killer Joe, Blood Simple, The Limey
Tarzan (PG, 99 mins)
Director: Reinhard Klooss
The oft-told tale of the ape-man gets another run out, one which barely seems necessary given Disney's animated version from 1999. This new CG 'toon effort once again sees the young Greystoke orphaned in Africa and adopted by gorillas, where he grows up to be king of the jungle. The plot kicks in with Greystoke Energies seeking the site of a meteor which they believe will yield great power, giving it an Avatar vibe as Tarzan takes on the baddies, on top of the usual crocodile-wrestling shenanigans. The main problem is the creepily animated humans, with their waxy features and dead eyes coupled with earnest voices and a woeful narration that explains what's happening on screen while we watch it making for sluggish viewing. The apes fare better and the jungle is lushly generated, with some vine-swinging action to rival Spider-Man, and as a simple adventure Tarzan should prove watchable enough for 10 year olds.
See it if you liked: Tarzan (1999), Dinosaur, King Kong
Plastic (15, 102 mins)
Director: Julian Gilbey
There's a deep and damaging flaw running right through the heart of Plastic, a British drama based on the true story of a group of youngsters (Ed Speleers and Will Poulter among them) who ran a huge credit card fraud operation by buying goods on stolen cards. This isn't just some fluffy caper, and in asking us to side with them the film is asking us to root for proper criminals, and it doesn't really matter that they're up against even bigger gangsters who rope them into stealing millions for them, setting the plot in motion. This sends them to Miami to rip off big spenders, but though sold as flashy, the goings on are really pretty stiff. The actors are perfectly capable, but their internal squabbles are dull in an unpleasant, charmless film that's riddled with holes.
See it if you liked: The Bling Ring, Runner Runner, The Love Punch
Brick Mansions (15, 91 mins)
Director: Camille DeLamarre
A remake of decade-old French thriller District 13, this clumping action mess is notable only for being the late Paul Walker's final completed film. Brick Mansions is a walled-off slum in a near-future Detroit, full of criminals and deprivation, and Walker's cop is sent in to find a bomb that's set to destroy the estate. Teaming up with Brick Mansions resident Lino (David Belle, the parkour expert who reprises his role from the original), they smash their way past goons on their way to deal with the kingpin (RZA). Their fast-limbed fisticuffs are momentarily diverting but their buddy banter is painful, and while the parkour is sprightly enough, it's all a bit 2007. There's a dash of Escape from New York in there, but this is a Jason Statham film by any other name, offering exploitative genre thrills in cheap and badly written ways, and it really belongs on DVD shelves rather than cinema screens.
See it if you liked: District 13, The Raid, The Transporter