Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
Michael Moore the writer director producer and featured interviewer for Bowling for Columbine (a title best explained by the film) traverses North America searching for an answer to one question: Why do guns kill so many people in America? As he talks to the Michigan Militia Marilyn Manson Charlton Heston survivors of the shooting at Columbine High School James Nichols (that's the brother of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols) and many many others Moore discovers that there is no easy answer. It's not just because there are a lot of guns in the States; Canada has over 7 million guns in 10 million households and still has significantly fewer gun-related deaths than the U.S. For Moore much of the blame lies with the American media which perpetrates a culture of fear in order to--what else?--convince people to buy more stuff from big business which is equally responsible. If you're afraid to walk out of your house you need a bigger TV to entertain you; if you have to leave better make sure you have a car as big as a tank to protect you. If you're going to the grocery store better stock up on plenty of bottled water and if you're headed for Kmart may as well pick up some--ammo?
That's right ammunition. The troubled teens who caused such carnage at Columbine had purchased the bullets for their shooting spree at the local Kmart and in one of the film's most incredible scenes Moore takes two survivors of the shooting to Kmart's headquarters in Troy Mich. to "return the merchandise" that's still embedded in their bodies. When that doesn't get the desired response (a promise that Kmart will stop selling ammunition) the dogged threesome head to the nearest Kmart buy every bullet in the place and return to Kmart's headquarters--this time with a hoard of reporters and news cameras behind them. Needless to say Kmart vowed to stop selling bullets for handguns within 90 days. This scene really gets at the heart of Moore's paradoxical position in modern culture. It's his bulldog tenacity as a documentarian that makes his films and TV shows so interesting to watch especially when he's forcing big business to its knees but at the same time the Kmart scene shows how Moore himself can easily fall prey to exactly the kind of media hoopla he cautions against. The media is a powerful influence; don't trust it. The media is a powerful tool; manipulate it.
Fortunately Moore knows how tenuous his position is in this regard and as a director he makes decisions to juxtapose scenes in ways that rather than pretend the issue doesn't exist play up the fact that as a personality on screen he's every bit as susceptible to being accused of manipulating the medium as any local news reporter. In one particularly shocking example a reporter puts on his sad face to tell of the tragic shooting of 6-year-old Kayla Rowland by a classmate in Flint Mich. (Moore's hometown and also not coincidentally Moore would say the onetime home of General Motors and Eric Harris one of the Columbine shooters). As soon as the cameras stop rolling the reporter is shouting obscenities into his earpiece and whining about how much he needs some hairspray. Moore on the other hand takes his cameras inside the school to talk with the principal and he turns her away from the camera when she becomes visibly upset. But he doesn't turn the camera off. It's tricky. The same could be said of the film's climactic scene in which Moore visits Heston (the personification of the film's real villain--the NRA) at the actor's home. Knowing now that Heston suffers from Alzheimer's disease Moore's incessant questions seem too pushy and Heston's abrupt departure seems justified. Of course who's to say that Heston didn't release the information about his disease to the media this August knowing that Columbine which first screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May but actually debuted in the U.S. at the Telluride Film Festival--in August--had painted him in a very unfavorable light? Although this connection seems tenuous it's just this kind of conspiracy-minded reasoning that guides the plot of Bowling for Columbine. It can't be coincidence Moore argues that Lockheed Martin the largest weapons manufacturer in the U.S. and possibly the world is based in--you got it--Littleton Co. home of the Columbine Rebels. It may be just a coincidence but it might just be all too true.