TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
"OCEAN'S FOUR?" The 1960 Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack heist comedy "Ocean's Eleven," about former military guys who reunite to rob a bunch of Vegas casinos, isn't exactly a National Film Registry-bound oeuvre destined for the Pantheon of Cinema Classics. No matter.
Although it's the new millennium, Hollywood still knows no shame in venturing where no others dare in scavenging for material. Thus, we have on the boards plans for a remake of "Ocean's Eleven," courtesy of Warner Bros. and producer Jerry Weintraub, with George Clooney -- as Danny Ocean -- so far the only star firmed for the megastar cast of 11 partying felons.
Problem is, this "Ocean's" could be heading for a Titanic-like iceberg of a budget. For starters, Clooney pockets about $10 million per pic. Already mentioned to co-star with him are Brad Pitt (about $17.5 mil per pic), Johnny Depp ($11 million), Julia Roberts ($20 mil) and Mike Myers ($20 mil).
Now these are only mentions, but we know this is a Star Vehicle. So hypothetically going with the aforementioned and pulling out our pocket calculator, the new "Ocean's Eleven" has already sucked up about $78.5 million (this before at least five more major roles are to be cast and a motion picture to be shot, edited and marketed).
Fortunately, all-new "Ocean's Eleven" director Steven Soderbergh is known for attracting big-name talent willing to forgo normal fees for a chance to work with him. The film is scheduled for a January 2001 start but, according to Jerry Weintraub's office, he and Warner Bros. are still noodling over the budget as they continue to cast.
Our suggestion: Cut Clooney's pack from 11 to four or five and go fake Vegas in Canada.
ISN'T CANADA GREAT? Two of this past weekend's openers had nothing to do with French Canada -- except that they were shot there.
The Ashley Judd / Ewan McGregor thriller "Eye of the Beholder," with a story that jumps all over the U.S., including key scenes in Washington, San Francisco and New York, used a mostly Canadian crew on mostly Canadian locations. The pic, which debuted in le numero uno position on the box-office chart Monday, marked the distribution bow of L.A.-based Destination Films.
And the Bette Midler-starrer, "Isn't She Great," the biopic of best-selling trash authoress Jacqueline Susann and her slavishly supportive husband Irving Mansfield, took place all over New York and was shot all over Montreal. Perhaps the biggest insult to Gothamites is that even Broadway's legendary restaurant hangout Lindy's was recreated up north.
And, of course, "The Hurricane," which just may earn Denzel Washington that Oscar, did lots of its lensing in Canada.
THE NEVERENDED STORY? Speaking of "Eye of the Beholder," did the producers leave the ending of the film at the Canadian border?
Those Who Have Seen say the film's plot, about a maybe-psychopath who is stalking a maybe-serial killer in what just may be a dream or maybe the delusions of a severely demented or maybe severely depressed individual, is never resolved. Panting for that "Sixth Sense" type of mind-blowing ending that knocks the popcorn out of its holder, filmgoers merely got an end credit roll.
Watch "Eye" close sooner than anyone expected.
As for the un-great opening weekend of "Isn't She Great," Those Who Have Seen wonder why a film about such an over-the-top character like the fame-crazed, pooch-crazed and Pucci-crazed Susann, who wrote such over-the-top potboilers like "Valley of the Dolls," was given such over-the-top treatment. Call the filmmakers' broad (no pun intended) approach a philosophical miscalculation. Or maybe Susann and her incredible success as a writer are subjects that are too insubstantial for successful adaptation to the big screen. End of story.
... Less Stratospheric: New York-based Stratosphere Entertainment, money guy Carl Icahn's four-year-old specialized production and distribution entity, is undergoing growing -- or should we say shrinking -- pains. The staff was decimated last week as a result of restructuring that, when the deal closes, will have Stratosphere and Samuel Goldwyn Films sharing an umbrella under Vancouver-based CanWest, a partner of U.S.-based Seven Arts. CanWest hopes to make the two entities their "classics" picture division. Insiders said that the slice 'n' dice of Stratosphere is part of CanWest's strategy to combine the overheads of Stratosphere and Goldwyn by creating one sales department and one set of cashiers and bookers. Stratosphere, which recently released actress Joan Chen's directorial debut "Xiu Xiu," has scheduled for this summer the Sharon Stone-starrer, "Beautiful Joe," which marks the distrib's first in-house production ...
Why Lawyers Get Rich, Part X: A California-based company called C3 Entertainment, which owns rights to The Three Stooges trademarks, filed suit against New Line Cinema over use of less than 30 seconds of a clip from a Stooges short that was seen on a TV in the background in a scene in New Line's "The Long Kiss Goodnight." The wheels of justice do turn slowly, but a district court has finally dismissed the suit.