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Pompeii review: Kit Harington serves up a cheesy eruption

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Director: Paul WS Anderson; Screenwriters: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson; Starring: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jared Harris, Kiefer Sutherland; Running time: 104 mins; Certificate: 12A

With Pompeii, director Paul WS Anderson has essentially served up cheese on toast. Kiefer Sutherland oozes like fondue in his role as Roman general Corvus, who threatens to spoil the burgeoning romance between Milo, a sweaty young slave (Games of Thrones's Kit Harington), and the dewy-eyed daughter of Pompeii's ruling clan Cassia (Emily Browning). Is that the rumble of sexual hunger we can hear?

Er, no. It's a massive great mountain about to blow. And with this being a kind of sword 'n' sandals pantomime, you may be tempted to call out: 'It's behind you...'

Kiefer Sutherland in Pompeii
But before the real action starts, Anderson (Resident Evil) exploits every opportunity to get Harington half-naked and rolling around the local sandpit where the lad fast gains a reputation as the best gladiator in town. His cellmate Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) has something to say about that and he does so in a low-booming Barry White voice that also hints at a gradual warming of relations between the men.

Okay, so Anderson doesn't quite get into Brokeback Mountain territory, although there's a lot of camping around. Harington strives to retain some dignity, but the script contrives to put him in ridiculous situations, beginning with a spot of horse-whispering that makes Cassia go all mushy inside - even after he breaks the horse's neck in an act of compassion. Luckily, she has a white horse that is more befitting of her hero in wildly romantic/reckless scenes where they gallop across the foothills of Vesuvius.

Given that Corvus has already notified Cassia of their impending marriage, this behaviour strikes him as quite offensive. Sutherland stamps around doing his own impression of the lava-swollen mountain, misdirecting his anger at anyone who happens to be in the vicinity, growling the immortal words "Kill them, kill them all" - and probably even more frustrated by the lack of a moustache to twiddle while he says it. Even when the mountain finally flips its lid and sends the locals stampeding, he feels the need to repeat himself.

Emily Browning in Pompeii

Historians and geologists should look away now. The reconstruction of one of humanity's greatest natural disasters is reduced to a CGI video game with giant flaming rocks flying through the air like scud missiles, landing almost as heavily as the clunky dialogue. The toxic ash cloud - which according to modern scientific theories, killed more people than actual lava and flying boulders - only provides a bit of mood lighting for the lethal fireworks display.

Are we supposed to be watching this carnage oohing and ahhing? If the answer is yes then Anderson doesn't really pull it off. The blazing debris is too obviously superimposed over the sets, which are clearly constructed on a budget (because that toxic ash cloud only masks so many shortcomings). What happened at Pompeii was disaster on an epic scale and yet, the aura is of a studio back-lot in Canada.

Anderson makes few concessions to the fact that Pompeii was a human tragedy as well as an environmental phenomenon, so at the end, his attempt to inject a bit of pathos rings hollow. Apart from the half-baked script, Harington and Browning don't generate enough fire between them and after the curtain falls, the only question that stirs in your gut is: Pepperoni, or plain...?



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