I wish I could say The Legend of Hercules was the awesome sort of awful, where you have a blast watching the hideous incompetence unfold before your disbelieving eyes. Sadly, it’s a much more pedestrian awful, the kind of resolute badness that makes you idly wonder if you shouldn’t just slip next door to catch the end of The Hobbit. Certainly, its badness is impenetrable: smothering you like an asbestos blanket and listening with grim anticipation as you labor for breath beneath it. But while the RiffTrax boys should be able to eat it for lunch, the rest of us are left with a drab, incompetent pile of cow flop that elicits nothing but tired sighs.
There’s a point early on when we might hope for better things. Hercules (Kellan Lutz) and his evil brother (Liam Garrigan) tackle the Nemean Lion, or at least a poorly rendered CGI version of the Nemean Lion (actual lion content may vary). It’s silly and it comes out of nowhere, but for a moment there’s hope that they might actually follow the format of the Twelve Labors. It’s January after all, and a few goofy monsters can go a long way. But no monsters appear. The lion was just a cheap tease and director Renny Harlin (the man who brought us Cutthroat Island) soon abandons the classic mythology for a poorly realized Spartacus rip-off. He even ports in once and former Spartacus Liam McIntyre to act as Herc’s best bud, allowing them to slash their way through the gladiator pits of ancient Greece in the most shameless emulation of a preexisting property this side of Mac and Me.
“But to what end?” You ask. Damned if I know. There’s a sprinkle of find-your-destiny mythology thrown in, along with a standard-issue revolt-against-the-dark-tyranny-that-rules-this-land rescue plot. But Harlin struggles to assemble the pieces from the first shot, hampered by just about every aspect of the production you can name. The script resembles one of those FOR COMPARISON PURPOSES ONLY examples in a cheap screenwriting class. The sets and visual effects would embarrass Ed Wood. The editing was apparently performed by a tribe of crazed colobus monkeys. And we’re reminded once again that nothing makes you appreciate good acting more than bad acting… especially bad acting from the entire cast. I haven’t seen an assembly chow down on the scenery en masse like this since Battlefield Earth. (McIntyre alone manages to salvage some shred of dignity.)
Even that would be okay if it at least generated some interest. But the precise combination of incompetent elements create a sort of black pit of boredom from which no hope can escape. You find yourself studying the pores on lead’s face – do they resemble unmentionable parts of a cat’s anatomy? – in vain hope of avoiding actual engagement in the “story.” We don’t even get the simple pleasures of camp, since The Legend of Hercules betrays neither sufficient self-awareness nor over-the-top bombast to really let us sink our teeth into it.
To top it all off, the film’s copious violence remains almost infuriatingly chaste, smacking of overt meddling to reach the PG-13 sweet spot. It wants to be an R so badly, and yet it prudishly insists on cutting away from the gory bits right as sword meets gut. It couldn’t get more annoying if your mother rushed in and yelled at you to turn that filth off. The same goes with the sexuality, marked mainly by scenes of Lutz romping with his leading lady (Gaia Weiss) that resemble hard-core porn as directed by Ned Flanders.
It should be hysterical. Instead it’s merely depressing, a sad hiccup of cinematic waste that can’t possibly vanish from our memories quickly enough. Thankfully, it’s not the last Hercules movie coming out this year, and it’s hard to imagine the Dwayne Johnson version sinking any further than this one. The Legend of Hercules probably won’t even last until next week, when a new batch of third-rate genre tripe will drive it from the screen. One prays that its successor will do a better job of… well, anything really. There’s nowhere to go but up for 2014, the only decent thing that this wretched excuse for a movie ever gives us.