The Legend of Hercules is a huge disappointment — not because there was ever much hope for quality but because there are no misspellings in the end credits. Meager are the scraps of entertainment you hope for in such early-January slop.
While there are no tantalizing typos, there is an early frontrunner for 2014’s funniest credit: ironing by Bogdan Lambev. Mr. Lambev could’ve done worse than keeping the loincloths clean and pressed. He could’ve been among this misguided mess’s quartet of writers — one of whom is named Giulio Steve, which sounds like a failed Adam Sandler character on Saturday Night Live.
They’re the ones who unwisely smoothed out much of this mythology’s coolest, campiest wrinkles. Hercules’ mentor, Chiron, is not a centaur but just a scraggly haired old guy. It goes unmentioned that Hebe, whom Hercules loves, is actually his half-sister. At least there’s an amusing depiction of Hercules’ conception, with Zeus invisibly inseminating Queen Alcmene in her bed.
The most depressing name on this movie’s list of guilty parties is Renny Harlin. The Finnish filmmaker behind such great greasy-cheeseburger ’90s action films as Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea is just carrying water here for international financiers looking to make a quick buck.
From the producers of Olympus Has Fallen, as the ads for “Hercules” so prominently tout, comes another deliberately rushed attempt to steal the thunder (and dollars) from a big-studio movie later this year about the same thing. Olympus claimed box-office victory over White House Down, but it’s doubtful this tale will surpass a summer blockbuster with Dwayne Johnson as the demigod.
Late of the Twilight series, the star here is Kellan Lutz, a sentient porterhouse with the face of a steroidal 13-year-old. Lutz plays the part as though he won a prize in a promotional contest, dopily smiling at his surroundings and putting painfully … long … pauses … before the short sentences he strings together. (There’s a reason the trailers limited Lutz’s linguistic liabilities to just a couple of lines.)
Asking Lutz to recite serious, stentorian dialogue is like asking Ndamukong Suh to sing children to sleep with a nice, calm lullaby. And his pronunciation of “coward” could someday fuel a dissertation on the decline of intelligible speech in films.
Lutz is the biggest name in a cast selected for its quasi-resemblance to more famous people if you squint — Eric Bana-ish, Anthony Hopkins-esque, sorta Nathan Fillion, not Evangeline Lilly, Tom Hiddleston lite. At least Olympus corralled a couple of Oscar winners. Here, you get an accent smorgasbord (Australian! British! Serbian!) and the sight of Johnathon Schaech, Jimmy from That Thing You Do!, in cornrows.
Schaech plays Tarak, head of a warrior clan whom tyrannical King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) pays to kill Hercules. Amphitryon doesn’t know Hercules is half-god, but he’s always shunned him in favor of his firstborn, Iphicles (Liam Garrigan).
The beautiful princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss) is betrothed to Iphicles (not her half-brother, mind you), but Hercules is her true love. When the two try to elope, Amphitryon sends Hercules and his pal Sotiris (Liam McIntyre, from the Spartacus TV series and the best of this bunch) into combat and straight into Tarak’s hands.
Through some misdirection, Hercules and Sotiris cheat death and are sold into gladiatorial slavery. (In one of many unintentionally hilarious scenes, Hercules lays out his grand romantic plan to Sotiris as whipped men scream in the background.) Maximus, I mean, Hercules rises through the fighting ranks and avoids becoming “a bloody pile of guts and bone on which the canines of Olympus may feast.” Later, with Chiron’s help, William Wallace … sorry, Hercules rousts a secret army to usurp Amphitryon, rescue Hebe and fully realize super-strength he got from the old man.
To show off its needless 3D, Hercules clutters the screen with wispy, weightless objects — snowflakes, ash, rain, petals, pollen, Lutz’s charisma. It’s also a failed attempt to distract from shoddy CGI that wouldn’t pass muster in an After Effects tutorial (a horseback-POV shot is slightly more believable than Clark Griswold’s sled ride) and repetitive action sequences as bloodless as they are brainless. Red stuff does get on swords when they go through bodies, right?
It’s perhaps the only time you’ll wish WWE had thrown its muscle behind a movie, if only to insist on more convincing fight choreography. Thanks to an overabundance of the stutter-stop slo-mo popularized in 300, you enjoy some great long looks at how bad it gets. Yes, 300 is yet another of the many movies The Legend of Hercules so badly wants to be. Move the decimal point about three places to the left, and that’s about the percentage of good stuff you’ll find here.