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In Movies & TV Reviews

Kellen Lutz stars in "The Legend of Hercules," now playing.

"The Legend of Hercules": half god, half man, all awful

Oh, there you are January.

After last weekend's "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" cracked open 2014 in surprisingly tolerable fashion, I had almost forgotten that typically the first month of the year is to movie studios what the Gulf of Mexico is to Dexter Morgan: A place to discreetly dump their cinematic crimes and atrocities before they start rotting and stinking up the place.

So thanks, "The Legend of Hercules," for reminding me what a miserable graveyard January can be for movies.

I'd say the sword-and-sandal saga – directed by professional knock-off artist Renny Harlin, who was probably riding a pretty solid high knowing he's no longer responsible for the worst "Die Hard" film – looks like a direct-to-DVD film that somehow tricked its way onto the big screen. However, even if this utterly bargain bin feature – albeit one with a $70 million price tag. Side note: HOW?! – went straight to OnDemand, it would still be well below the standard.

Before we meet the titular Greek titan, we meet the parents: King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) and Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee). He's a cruel warmonger who, in the aggressively cheap-looking opening battle sequence, invades peaceful countries just for giggles, which is a major downer for Alcmene.

Their relationship takes another hit when Hurricane Zeus visits Alcmene in the middle of the night. He dramatically blows all their curtains around and, more importantly, impregnates her with Hercules. You know the scene in "Ghostbusters" when the sexy ghost visits Dan Aykroyd? It's like that but 1,000 times more uncomfortable. I didn't like it, and neither does Amphitryon, who goes into a jealous fury. Nevertheless, the child is born and given the name Alcides by his mortal dad.

20 years later, Hercules grows up into beefy "Twilight" star Kellen Lutz, showing off the charisma that made him a three-time Teen Choice Award winner (if by charisma, I mean pectoral muscles). Unfortunately, his dull performance is all Gap model looks with a Gap mannequin's acting ability. The most interesting part of the character is his perfect luminescent teeth, implying Hercules was possibly an ancestor to Jonah Hill's character from "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Anyways, Hercules is locked in a forbidden romance with Hebe, the Princess of Crete (Gaia Weiss). Theirs is a chemistry-filled love that burns with the passion of a single, really weak, near-death sun. Unfortunately, a still enraged Amphitryon pairs Hebe up with Hercules' weaselly older brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan, trying to channel Joaquin Phoenix in one of several unflattering comparisons to "Gladiator"). As for Hercules, he's cast into the army and deployed to certain death in the battlefield.

After an ambush, Hercules, along with another loyal survivor (Liam McIntyre of Starz' "Spartacus"), is sent into slavery, but he's soon duking it out in gladiator arenas, fighting to get home, get revenge and get his girl back. Speaking of Hebe, she's back at home, mourning her current state and her assumed dead lover while veteran actor Rade Serbedzija, draped in some seemingly unwashed bed sheets, occasionally wanders on screen spouting generic words of wisdom and generally looking confused.

The performances, other than Adkins growling and yelling every other line, are uniformly boring, filled with uninterested line readings on par with a high school drama club. At one point, Hercules has one of those inspire the troops speeches to his little Greek rebellion, and you half expect one of the soldiers to say, "Sorry, I zoned out; what did you say?"

Not that the screenplay – a hackneyed mess of lifeless dialogue, bland underdeveloped-at-best characters and mopey melodramatic romance – is much help. The script comes from a total of four credited screenwriters – Harlin, Daniel Giat, Giulio Steve and Sean Hood – not including the people behind "Gladiator" who they're not-so-subtly ripping off with their dramatically flaccid banished man redemption/rebellion story and coliseum battles. But hey, imitation is the finest form of flattery, and compared to this, Ridley Scott's Best Picture winner has never looked better.

Also looking great thanks to "The Legend of Hercules": Zack Snyder and "300." Harlin and company throw a poorly rendered version of Snyder's signature visuals – the start-then-stop slow motion, the color palates – and some special effects that wouldn't impress on a PS3 into a blender, and then chuck that blender into a wood chipper.

Snyder's film was drenched in carefully crafted, stylized artificiality; "Hercules," on the other hand, looks drab and fake because of just pure lazy shoddiness. Every green screen shot looks terrible, whether it be a muddy-looking shot of the desert, a 15-person coliseum crowd clearly copy-and-pasted to look like 1,000 (a trick that I remember looking more convincing on the old PBS show "Wishbone") or merely a person riding a horse. Worse yet, it's stale.

That previous comment about blenders and wood chippers isn't just a snide joke either; "The Legend of Hercules" is miserably edited. Scenes seem to end before they're actually done, and the action is often chopped up to the point incomprehensibility. A listless horse chase features both miserable green screen and editing that makes it appear like nobody is chasing anybody.

And frankly, the limp action needs all the help it could get. This is a movie whose big opening action sequence is two guys fighting one-on-one while their armies just stand around and watch. The bad decisions only escalate from there, with Hercules occasionally bounding around like Ang Lee's "Hulk" or wielding a pair of stone chains that follow their own laws of physics. It's not even bad enough to be funny.

By the time the epic climax rolled around and Hercules summoned a lightning sword/whip, I just couldn't find myself to care about these boring cardboard characters fighting their glaringly fake CG battles. I could, however, find myself to care when a character died, only to come back alive for a happy ending because I guess Zeus willed it. Actually, that would've been a better reason than the movie gave, which was no reason.

There's a miniscule amount of entertainment to be had watching people pummel others into the dirt (or just merely watching Adkins yell madly). Even at its best, though, the action sequences look like an expensive, historically themed WWE match somehow edited to look more fake.

Much like last year's "Die Hard in the White House" situation, there's actually another "Hercules" film hitting theaters later this July, directed by loathed "Rush Hour" mastermind Brett Ratner and starring The Rock. "The Legend of Hercules" was likely pushed out in the hopes of capitalizing on any pre-hype and setting the bar for its future.

In the process, they set the bar so low, it's sitting on the floor of Hades' storm shelter. I think even Brett Ratner should be able to get over that.

Theaters and showtimes for The Legend of Hercules Rating:


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