By Dan Kois
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010; WE22
"Clash of the Titans" is the latest example of Hollywood's belief that any terrible script can be made palatable if you just throw enough money and British accents at it.
Director Louis Leterrier wants his movie to be a serious action-adventure, an epic with mythic resonance; if he didn't, he wouldn't have cribbed so much from "The Lord of the Rings" movies. But in striving for a combination of grit and grandeur, Leterrier misses a chance to make the kind of camp classic that could have endured for generations. Instead, it's a muddled disappointment.
What appeal the movie has comes from its two biggest-name stars, both of whom deliver outsized performances befitting their status as, well, gods. As Zeus, Liam Neeson struts around in a disco-inspired silver outfit that shines so brightly we can barely see his face. As his brother Hades, Ralph Fiennes swoops up from the underworld in his own cloud of dirty smoke, like an infernal Pig Pen. They're welcome counterpoint to Sam Worthington, the Australian actor who previously played monotonous, clenched-jaw hero Jake Sully in "Avatar" and who, in "Clash of the Titans," plays Perseus as Sully with better legs.
Foundling Perseus, the offspring of Zeus and a human woman, comes to the city of Argos as its king declares war on those inconstant gods. Sent off in search of a way to kill the Kraken, the leviathan who is the gods' greatest weapon, Perseus and his band of merry misfit soldiers hack and slash their way through a rogues' gallery of quasi-mythological creatures.
The action kicks off with an endless battle against a nest of giant scorpions -- a fight that, like most of the movie's set pieces, is hectic, gory and visually incoherent. The scorpions of stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen's 1981 original "Clash" may have lacked the trompe l'oeil magic of contemporary CGI, but at least Harryhausen knew how to direct an action sequence. Watching a bunch of undifferentiated muscular dudes in tunics pretend to fight some imaginary scorpions, I could only think how much better the scene would have been were it scored to, say, the Scorpions' "Rock Me Like a Hurricane." So lacking in wit and flair is "Clash" that such groan-worthy ideas seem preferable to what's actually on the screen.
Later, Perseus visits the Stygian witches and battles a truly lame-looking Medusa. A trip to the underworld does give the movie one of its few moments of real visual invention, as skeletal Charon's ferry is pulled across the river Styx by waterlogged zombies.
Then -- as anyone who has seen the movie's endlessly replayed ads is aware -- the gods release the Kraken. He's huge; he's slimy; he has tentacles. His attack on Argos is as leaden and unthrilling as can be, as is Perseus's inevitable triumph. The movie's conclusion promises a sequel, and given the economics of Hollywood, that's a threat we must take seriously.
Why? Because Warner Bros. has spent wisely to buy a hit. They even converted the movie -- at the last minute and to unimpressive effect -- to 3-D in order to take advantage of exorbitant ticket prices. It hardly matters that "Clash," unlike recent examples of glorious Tinseltown excess including "Avatar" and "2012," offers so little bang for the buck. "Clash of the Titans," unfortunately, is too big to fail.
Kois is a freelance reviewer.
1/2 star PG-13. At area theaters. Contains (very gruesome) fantasy action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. 118 minutes.