"TROY" CLAIMS to be "inspired by" Homer's "Iliad." Yeah, right. It's inspired by the prospect of Brad Pitt as Achilles -- an ancient, muscle-bound stud muffin who swings a mean sword and, in the privacy of his tent, can charm the robes off a vestal virgin.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
That's the only way to enjoy Wolfgang Petersen's nearly three-hour epic: as a Pitt vehicle. In a role that requires larger-than-life dimensions, he's pretty terrific. And he gets off to a great start facing off with a formidable assailant: an armored Goliath of a man who stands before his army of Thessalonians. Behind Achilles is his army, a loose coalition of Achilles' own Mermidons and various other factions commanded by King Agamemnon (Brian Cox).
The deal is, both men fight each other instead of subjecting their armies to massive slaughter. Whoever wins this tussle takes the battle. This clash is ostensibly about getting the Thessalonians to join Agamemnon's forces. But the real point of this scene, moviegoers, is to show what kind of butt-whupping Achilles can hand out. (What's Greek for "Dude, I pity the fool"?) Achilles runs at the giant, leaps and twirls in the air like Allen Iverson and -- hey, why spoil a great moment?
Not long after this incident, the united (but ever-bickering) Greeks will join forces to attack Troy, located across the water in the future Turkey. The reason: A Trojan prince called Paris (Orlando Bloom) has absconded with Helen (Diane Kruger), the wife of Spartan King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), who happens to be Agamemnon's brother.
When they get to Troy, they find a virtually impregnable walled city, presided over by King Priam (Peter O'Toole). The Trojans, a fierce army led by Paris's older brother, Hector (an impressive, touching Eric Bana), have no intention of giving up Helen. The war is to last 10 years before the Greeks can enter the city, although I don't recall the movie mentioning these years slipping by.
Highlights in the movie include Achilles' romance with Briseis (Rose Byrne), a princess turned temple virgin, and mano a mano duke-outs between Paris and Menelaus, and Hector and Achilles, who's furious that Hector killed his favorite cousin, Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund).
Just don't go into "Troy" expecting adherence to the subtler details of "The Iliad." (This movie is to Homer's original what Charlton Heston's "The Ten Commandments" was to the Old Testament.) For starters, the gods are pretty much gone. No Zeus or Hera. No Aphrodite and the golden apple she offers to Paris. There's frequent mention of the sun god, whose temple Achilles desecrates at one point. But it doesn't seem to mean much that Achilles has sacked the place. There are no consequences. And there's no sense that the deeds of men are intertwined with the will of the gods, possibly the most significant element of the original.
The roles of Ajax (Tyler Mane) and Odysseus (Sean Bean), two hugely significant characters, are played down here. "Troy" does, however, credit Odysseus with devising the idea of the Trojan horse, a gigantic equine statue the Greeks build as a ruse to get into the city. And the movie avoids the long-lasting theory that the love between Achilles and Patroclus was more than just affection between cousins. Hey, it's bad enough the men are wearing skirts and sandals. Plus, did we mention this is a Brad Pitt movie?
Will the generations raised on video games and macho action movies be able to endure muscular warriors attacking each other with relatively wimpy bows, arrows and spears? Sure, they went for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but those movies had hobbits, awesome special effects, a beguiling computer-generated creation called Gollum and many other exciting elements.
This movie (which has "Rings" actors Bloom and Bean) is a bunch of Greeks and Trojans swinging metal at each other, then crashing in tents on the beach when they're tired. When they want to go anywhere, they've got to pull out chariots, for goodness' sake. Even though this movie is riddled with computer-generated effects -- that shot of 1,000 ships is really obvious -- it may come across to many as low-tech.
Pitt's presence saves the movie from many of its potential pitfalls. Only he could seduce Briseis after waking up to find her pressing a dagger against his throat; and only he could do it without inducing hysterical laughter in the theater. There are no gods in this movie, but he comes the closest.
TROY (R, 165 minutes) -- Contains battlefield violence, extremely chaste nudity and some sexual content. Area theaters.