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
Warning: Major plot spoilers for Don Jon follow!
While we can always rely on the odd Nicholas Sparks movie to rope us back into the romantic comedy genre we know and (if only out of the comforts of familiarity) love, the last few entries that can be defined as rom-coms do not quite fall within the margins of our expectations. This summer, Drinking Buddies sent up the tried tropes of happy endings, perfect couples, and friends with benefits. On the horizon, we have About Time, which tosses in a sci-fi twist to bolster the love affair between a humble young time traveler and the apple of his eye. And in between the two, we have perhaps the biggest subversion of the lot: Don Jon, now in theaters, which turns every tradition of the genre on its head:
The HeroIn your average rom-com, you have a good-natured fellow with one cloying tic that keeps him from being the perfect mate. He's too lazy, too timid, afraid of intimacy, lives with his parents, can't swim. Generally, it's a premise you would be able to tell your parents about without blushing. The very soil of Don Jon subverts this. What is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's titular hero's epic flaw? His addiction to pornography.
The Backdrop"So where are we going to set this one: Manhattan, Los Angeles, or Paris?" That seems to be the writers room discussion in the early drafts of every rom-com that hits theaters, opting to use the affluent, angelic locales to enhance the dreamy quality of the love stories on screen. But Don Jon takes a different approach, sticking its characters in suburban Jersey — a kingdom laden with clubs, churches, and accents so thick you can spread 'em on garlic bread.
The Meet-CuteThe most important moment in any rom-com. The initial union of the man and woman in question needs to be sweet and unique, and to set the stage for their relationship on the whole. But in Don Jon, the first glance exchanged between Jon (Gordon-Levitt) and leading lady Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is less infused with budding love than bursting lust. Jon spots Barbara in his usual Jersey club, eyes her up and down, and (through the benefits of alcohol) wins her attention, and a bit of physical contact. The very same way he's done many times before, and would continue to do thereafter.
The Perfect MomentsIn most rom-coms? There are instances that let us know these two people are perfect for each other. In Don Jon... well, they're both attractive... but otherwise, we don't really see a whole lot of "meant to be" between Jon and Barbara, who have drastically conflicting ideas of masculinity, relationships, and love.
The Life LessonOrdinarily, a romantic hero will have some illustration of the perfect love story for which to reach, delivered in the form of a movie relationship, a childhood memory, or his parents' personal history. In Don Jon, we get the latter... and it's a few beats shy of an admirable tale. Jon Sr. (Tony Danza) recounts the moment he first lay eyes on Jon's mother (Glenne Headley), capping the narrative with a prideful recitation of his very possessive, unromantic words: "That's mine." The mentality that set it all into play.
The "True" LoveDon Jon skirts the idea of true love, of soul mates, of manic pixie dream girls swooping in to save the poor sap from himself... but Jon does find solace in the embrace of one woman. No, not Johansson's Barbara, but the kooky, emotionally erratic Esther, played by Julianne Moore. Usually, when you have a leading pair that looks like JGL and ScarJo, you glue them together. But Don Jon lets its star find peace of mind in a more nontraditional relationship.
The Fatal FlawIn every rom-com, the man struggles to keep his horrible secret hidden from the woman of his dreams... and in every rom-com, it eventually rears its ugly head. The difference here is that this tragedy ordinarily prompts the hero to give up his vice once and for all to win the woman back. Jon, while working through his addiction in order to live a more satisfactory life, takes a much more gradual journey, leading to a much different resolution...
The Resolution...one without Barbara entirely. One in which he can work on himself, not vying to satisfy an image lain out by his sex-starved father, his grandchildren-hungry mother, or the romantic comedy genre itself (with which Barbara is so rigidly obsessed). One where Jon can learn to live in the moment, experience intimacy, and appreciate the things he genuinely loves.
More:'Don Jon' ReviewJoseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson Talk 'Don Jon'Julianne Moore Talks 'Don Jon' and the Rom-com Genre
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
From Our Partners:A Complete History Of Twerking (1993-2013) (Vh1)15 Stars Share Secrets of their Sex Lives (Celebuzz)
"By the way Congratulations to Diana Nyad. What a truly inspiring story." Singer Linda Perry congratulates author and long distance swimmer Diana Nyad for becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage.