When two similarly-themed movies come out in quick succession, it’s usually better to be the first one out of the gate. In 2013, “White House Down” had better marketing, a bigger budget and the Channing Tatum factor, but it couldn’t escape the shadow of the other terrorists-kidnap-the-president movie, “Olympus Has Fallen,” which came out a few months earlier and brought in more money domestically.
But there’s good news for Brett Ratner, the director behind “Hercules,” which comes out in July. It’s hard to imagine that the summer blockbuster could be worse than “The Legend of Hercules,” which should fade quickly into obscurity as so many January releases do.
Dwayne Johnson, who takes the title role in Ratner’s rendition, has more charisma in one raised eyebrow than Kellan Lutz can muster during an entire pre-battle speech in “The Legend of Hercules.” Lutz has the muscles to play the powerful demigod offspring of Zeus and the mortal queen Alcmene, but he could have skipped a few grueling weight-lifting routines to take some acting lessons. In his defense, the script does him no favors.
The movie tells the creation story of Hercules, as his mother falls out of love with her husband, King Amphitryon (a spectacularly overacting Scott Adkins), and his warring ways and prays to Hera for peace. The goddess comes up with a plan which involves letting her husband, the almighty Zeus, sleep with Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) and father a child, who shall bring peace to the land. This scheme leads to one of the most unintentionally funny sex scenes in memory, as Alcmene is visited in her bed one night by the invisible god, who expresses pleasure by mooing like a cow.
But the meat of the story is this: Hercules falls in love with a princess, who is betrothed to his evil brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), and the equally vile King Amphitryon sends his supposed offspring to co-opt distant lands where certain death awaits him. Of course, he doesn’t die, and he and another Greek, Sotiris (Liam McIntyre), become best bros as they journey back to Argos to foil the nuptials that are to take place three moons hence.
Recurring visions of the fake moon were just some of the moments that caused outbursts of incredulous laughter during a recent screening. Another such instance came when Hercules kills the Nemean lion, a computer-generated monster that looks like an animatronic stuffed animal.
Aside from bad dialogue and worse special effects, one of the most frustrating features of “Legend” is its shortage of lingering shots. Quick cutting is an epidemic in modern movies, but in this case, when scenes end — usually with some one-liner — there’s no time to process the words before we’re thrust into some new action. The movie is the cinematic equivalent of a run-on sentence that never pauses for a breather. It doesn’t appear that a lot of time or effort was put into the script, but with this kind of cutting, director Renny Harlin (who also is one of the writers) makes clear what little value he places on words.
Some of the fight scenes are genuinely exciting and McIntyre, who clearly has acting ability well beyond this type of work, manages to keep a straight face. But the only thing epic about “The Legend of Hercules” is what a failure it is.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains intense combat action, violence and some sensuality. 99 minutes.