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'Pompeii' explodes with cheesy melodrama

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Director Paul W.S. Anderson, known best for helming the video-game-turned-film-series “Resident Evil,” returns to the big screen with the end-of-the-world love story, “Pompeii.”

The mere mention of “Pompeii” conjures the still shocking idea of a region caught unaware by Mount Vesuvius’ eruption, its everyday citizens captured in mundane activities, suddenly trapped beneath an avalanche of ash. But, Anderson seeks not for the audience to truly understand everyday life during Pompeii’s Pax Romana, but rather for us to follow a convoluted gladiator-meets-”Romeo and Juliet” love story while watching an inevitable end-of-the-world spectacle.

“Pompeii” focuses on the story of Milo (Kit Harington), who, in childhood, is the only survivor of his Celtic clan’s slaughter, led by Roman Senator Corvus (Keifer Sutherland). Little Milo is soon picked up by wandering slavers and, over the years, becomes a skilled (almost superhuman) gladiator in arena fighting. His skill set in supreme combat earns him a trip from Britannia to Italy, where he winds up in Pompeii.

Soon Roman slave and super-fighter Milo makes the acquaintance of a fellow enslaved gladiator, Atticus (an appealing Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of “Lost” fame), and they forge a tenuous friendship based on mutual respect. Milo also catches the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning), a young member of the Pompeiian elite, when he is called upon to render aid to her beloved horse. Cassia, although goo-goo-eyed for Milo, has to contend with another powerful suitor wanting her affections (the return of Sutherland’s evil senator), and all the while the local mountain continues to puff out ominous wisps of smoke.

Ultimately, the soap opera that is “Pompeii” tries to capitalize on the emotional history of the volcanic event in very pulpy, B-movie fashion. Gladiator fights with swords are aplenty, beheadings are the norm, and far too many close-ups are spent on the muscular and ample physiques of its stars. Part “Hercules,” part “Titanic’s” star-crossed lovers, and, strangely, part “The Horse Whisperer” (with Milo’s special ability to commune with the animals), the film attempts to glue together every clichéd happening from both end-of the-world and gladiator films. Nothing really works (or truly makes sense) other than just a base satisfaction in seeing an “artistic” version of how the calamity all went down. While the film is not a total burnout, it would be best seen during some future weekend on the small screen while you half-attend to housecleaning chores. “Pompeii” is rated 2 - of 5 stars.

“Pompeii” is rated PG-13 for “intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content.”

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