Where is Steve Reeves when you need him?
True, the 1950 Mr. Universe couldn’t act, but he brought a meaty conviction to the Greek hero Hercules in two films from the ’50s. When he pulled down the pillars he was chained to, you believed every tendon-straining second. Here here’s replaced by Kellan Lutz (he plays Emmett Cullen in the “Twilight” series no one remembers), who not only can’t act but has less presence than the snowflakes with which Renny Harlin punctuates every scene.
The many tales surrounding Hercules could fill the Marvel universe, so naturally Harlin discards them and turns the legend into a checklist of the latest clichés. Evil King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), whose war-mongering foreign policy grieves his “religious” wife Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), is bewildered when he enters the royal bedchamber to behold the queen in delicto with billowing bedsheets, bolts of lightning, and the jaded moaning of an invisible Zeus. The king of the gods is siring her with a child who will save the city from the tyrannical king. Now what story does that remind you of?
Though suspicious, Amphitryon lets the child (secretly named “Hercules” as a consolation to Zeus’s long-suffering wife Hera) live. To be on the safe side, he promises his kingdom, and Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss), to his other son, the weasely Iphicles (Liam Garrigan).
But life isn’t easy for the demi-god. Sold into slavery, forced to fight “Gladiator”-style, leading an uprising, engaged in fight scenes employing that “Matrix”-like freeze frame device that was probably still cool when Harlin made his last significant movie, and burdened with lines like “We fight not for what we have but what has been so brutally ripped from our breasts!,” Hercules learns the immortal lesson that if you believe in yourself you can do anything.
Well, if it was good enough for the Greeks, it’s good enough for us. At least until Brett Ratner’s “Hercules” comes out in July.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.