January isn’t even halfway over, but I can already safely say that I have seen the worst movie of the year. “The Legend of Hercules,” the latest film from Renny Harlin, the director of such ho-hum pictures as “Cliffhanger” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” is squirm-in-your-seat bad. A cookie-cutter script, robotic acting, and possibly the most annoying 3D conversion I have ever witnessed in a movie theater combine for a cinematic experience I hope to never have to sit through again. Even worse, its 98-minute run time feels like an eternity.
Anyone that ever took High School English should already know the story of Hercules, but for those that shirked their duties way back when, screenwriters Daniel Giat, Renny Harlin, Sean Hood, and Giulio Steve excruciatingly fill the audience in with every detail. In a painfully straightforward fashion, all four writers take the audience from Hercules’ inception (he is Zeus’ son) to his rise to the throne of Greece.
Filmed exclusively using the lavish backdrop of Bulgaria, the on-screen action somehow looks as if it were situated in CGI fairyland. Somewhere in the post production process, special Effects Technician Nikolay Furtunkov (Kon-Tiki) decided to replace much of the natural scenery with computer created backgrounds. When Harlin does feature the natural, unbridled beauty of the country, it is a fantastic sight to behold in 3D. The director often takes the opposite approach, though, as virtually all of the environments are fake. The resulting visual hodgepodge is a headache to watch.
Beyond the glaring optical problems, there are even worse story flaws. Instead of taking a stylized approach to the lukewarm script, Harlin directs the material with unflinching seriousness. Whether a young Hercules (Kellan Lutz) is shown strangling a huge lion with just his bare hands or taking down an entire army of enemies all by himself, the director never puts a creative spin on the demigod’s powers. While it is definitely amazing to watch a human display such heroic acts, I wish Harlin would have embraced the fantastical elements of this mythical tale much more than he did. Using the occasional slow-motion fight sequence doesn’t count, but clearly Harlin was never informed of that because he uses an overplayed stylistic effect repeatedly.
Playing the mighty Hercules is Kellan Lutz (Immortals), who would have been a slam-dunk in the role if he never opened his mouth. With an appropriately bronzed and chiseled pectoral region, the North Dakota born actor looks every bit a Greek God. Unfortunately, Lutz does open his mouth, and when he does so, the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is never more true. The actor fumbles from scene to scene, and leaves the audience with the impression that they just watched a mannequin magically learn to speak for an hour and a half.
Scott Adkins (Zero Dark Thirty), who plays the evil King Amphitryon, is an anomaly among the film’s underwhelming supporting cast. He is actually an enjoyably slimy character to watch. As the action takes Hercules away from the kingdom in which he was raised, the actor is sadly given less screen time.
The final knife in the chest for “The Legend of Hercules” comes in the form of the movie’s stagnant love story. Gaia Weiss, in her biggest performance to date, plays Hebe, the princess of Crete. Like all good Greek tragedies, Hebe is to be married to someone else, even though her heart lies with Hercules. Not letting this arranged marriage get in the way of their undying love for one another, the pair decides to take matters into their own hands. The only problem, for two characters that are supposed to be infatuated with one another, Lutz and Weiss have absolutely no chemistry together. They interact with one another as if they were drunken college freshman sloppily making out at a party. Where’s all the passion?
Like the unwanted, disfigured spawn of “300” and “Gladiator”, director Renny Harlin’s latest outing “The Legend of Hercules” is a mythic sized disaster. Dull, formulaic, and poorly acted, not even Zeus can save this wretched film from certain box office calamity. On a positive note, at least Lionsgate has an entire year to make up the reported $70 million they spent on this dud.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense combat action and violence, and for some sensuality
By David Morris