Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Renny Harlin

Stars: Kellan Lutz, Roxanne McKee, Scott Adkins, Liam McIntyre, Jonathan Schaech, Liam Garrigan, Gaia Weiss.

Pity those people who get their history lessons from Hollywood films, as they tend to play fast and loose with mythology for dramatic purposes. And we have new films from directors like Paul W S Anderson and Darren Aronofsky, who take liberties of Biblical proportions with their forthcoming films depicting familiar stories such as the destruction of Pompeii and the epic of Noah and the flood. And so we also get Renny Harlin’s take on the legend of Hercules, the fabled Greek warrior and demi-God who has been portrayed on television by the likes of Kevin Sorbo and Ryan Gosling in the series Young Hercules, and on the big screen by Lou Ferrigno, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Reeves.

This somewhat ludicrous film offers up an origin story for the mythical Greek hero. Here Hercules (played by Kellan Lutz) is presented as the son Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) after a lustful night with Zeus. But the jealous and power hungry king Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) resents his stepson and vows that he will never become a king. Sent on a mission to Egypt, Hercules and his best friend Sotiris (Australian actor Liam McIntyre from the tv series Spartacus, etc) are betrayed and captured by bloodthirsty warriors under the command of Tarak (Jonathan Schaech). They are sold into slavery and have to fight to survive and eventually make their way back to Greece. Hercules has to fight to earn his freedom and restore his reputation, and take his rightful place as a demi-God in the pantheon of legendary Greek heroes.

Hercules is a young warrior who becomes the focus of a growing rebellion against the tyranny of the evil Amphitryon and his brutal son Iphicles (Liam Garrigan). But he is also a hopeless romantic, in love with the beautiful Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss), who is being forced into an arranged marriage with Iphicles.

The director here is Renny Harlin. Once upon a time Harlin, a former director of slick commercials, established his reputation as a great director of action movies like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight, which raised the bar for the genre and delivered non-stop action and thrills. Then he floundered with lesser fare like Cutthroat Island, The Deep Blue Sea with its CGI-generated genetically modified sharks, car racing drama Driven and the troubled The Exorcist: The Beginning, before moving into directing television. His return to the big screen with The Legend Of Hercules is less than impressive.

The silly script has been credited to four writers, including Harlin himself, former set dresser Sean Hood (Halloween: Resurrection, Conan The Barbarian, etc), Giulio Steve and Daniel Giat, and is uneven in tone and has a strong homoerotic subtext. The Legend Of Hercules is a mish mash of elements from those sand and sword epics beloved of the 50s, like Ben Hur and Spartacus, as well as more recent films like 300 (particularly with its opening CGI-heavy battle sequence), Gladiator, and the recent remake of Clash Of The Titans.

This is cliched filmmaking, which delivers some wooden dialogue, wooden performances and some clumsily staged fight scenes that lack genuine excitement. Harlin also overuses slow motion during many of the fight sequences, an artifice that eventually becomes rather dull and annoying.

Cast against type here Lutz, better known for playing pasty faced and callow vampire types in the Twilight series, has beefed up to play the titular warrior here. But he lacks charisma, and his performance is dull and one-dimensional. There is an undue emphasis placed on the love story between Hercules and the princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss) at the expense of the action.

The film has been shot on location in Bulgaria, and the landscapes lend authenticity to the settings, although the natural settings contrast markedly with the poor CGI generated backgrounds. The film cost $70 million, but somehow it looks cheap, and the CGI effects are sometimes second rate, and one wonders where the bulk of the money went. There is also a 3D version, although given the recent poor reception for 3D films it’s hard to imagine that the retro-fitted process will in any way enhance this laboured film.

There is another big budget Hollywood film about Hercules on the way, this one starring Dwayne Johnson who will most likely be more convincing as the heroic Greek warrior, and it will be interesting to see what that version brings to the table. In the meantime we have this wannabe epic stinking up our screens.

According to the legend, Hercules was supposed to have performed seven labours – but the biggest labour here is having to sit through this turkey!★★


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