FRESH POUR: Pompeii (2014) / 3 Days to Kill (2014)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal. 

PompeiiPompeii
dir. Paul W.S. Anderson
TriStar Pictures/FilmDistrict

The 3D craze is still going strong, apparently; the industry itself seems to be held up by plenty of mainstay event movies (Avatar, Gravity, Hugo) that simply have to be seen in 3D, while mediocre releases like Pompeii are marketed primarily for their 3D spectacle. Full disclosure, I saw this in 2D, but I honestly don’t think anything would be lost. This film is directed by that other Paul Anderson, the one behind the surprisingly decent Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon, but who now has fallen into the Len Wiseman kick of directing shitty action movies starring his wife Milla Jovovich. Here, he surprisingly kicks Milla to the curb to attempt an historical epic of great scope and importance, but it comes across like a double-length episode of Rome.

Take the plot of Titanic, the beginning of Conan the Barbarian, elements of Gladiator and the sets from that one Doctor Who episode, and you’ve got Pompeii. Telling the tale of the Roman city’s destruction by Mount Vesuvius, the film follows Milo (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington), a scrappy Celtic gladiator with washboard abs and a chip on his shoulder, as he is moved to Pompeii to serve at the pleasure of Rome. There, he falls in love with a young aristocrat’s daughter (the apple-cheeked Emily Browning), befriends a swarthy African gladiator named Atticus (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, the highlight of the film), and fights for his life both against a foppish Roman aristocrat (the incredibly campy Kiefer Sutherland) and the rapidly-approaching volcano.

For a movie about one of the most fascinating historical events in history, Pompeii’s big moment only happens with about a half hour of the film to go; the preceding hour is filled with all the perfunctory, tepid character and plot development the film needs to pad out its runtime. Cassia’s parents talk about Rome’s new emperor! Milo and Atticus trade unfunny barbs about who will kill the other first! Emily Browning and her Slave Friend titter about how hot Milo is! All of this unexciting drivel is what you are greeted with for the vast majority of the film’s runtime. We know that all of this will go to shit as soon as the volcano hits, but the events in Pompeii are so far removed from the intermittent reminders that the volcano’s going to hit that the volcano itself feels tacked on. (That’s not supposed to happen in a film about the volcano going off.) There are a few fight scenes interspersed throughout, including one admittedly thrilling gladiator sequence involving chains and a whole mock Roman army, but the rest just feels like filler until we get to the volcano.

**SPOILERS**

When that time comes, the volcano’s wrath is short, sweet and ultimately disappointing. I mean this sincerely; if you’ve seen Titanic, you recognize all of these plot beats, right down to Kiefer as Roman Billy Zane wasting time trying to kill his romantic rival when the sky is literally falling around them. At the film’s tragic end, a plot point that is meant to be a romantic, sacrificial statement ends up feeling wasteful and unearned – so what if the kids die? We sort of knew that already. The film itself is bookended with sweeping CG panoramas of the infamous Pompeii corpses, interspersed with bits from Pliny the Younger’s letters to establish that This is a Thing That Happened; outside of the context of showing off what I presume are some impressive 3D ash effects, however, it’s unneeded.

**END SPOILERS**

It’s not all completely dire – like I said, the gladiator sequences are relatively well done, and Milo and Atticus’ bromance is adorable enough that I wanted them to stick together instead of focusing on poor, boring Emily Browning. Even Kiefer’s awkward theatrics as the least Jack Bauer-y character conceivable become a fascinating trainwreck to watch. All in all, however, I felt like Carrie-Anne Moss and Jared Harris in this film, as they sleepwalk through their roles as Emily Browning’s Concerned Parents/Exposition Handlers. Clinton Shorter’s score is brassy and confident, if repetitive, and the CG isn’t completely terrible. All in all, though, you won’t miss anything by skipping  Pompeii.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It

Pompeii Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever you see shots of Mt. Vesuvius
2) Drink every time a shot ramps down into slow motion
3) Drink any time someone says “Celt.”
Finish Your Drink When:
Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) says, “Gladiators do not beg.”

3DaystoKill3 Days to Kill
Dir. McG
Relativity Media

Luc Besson sure loves writing about aged assassins and their attempts to deal with their families, doesn’t he? From Leon to Taken to 3 Days to Kill, he’s dipped into that well many a time. In the case of his latest screenplay, 3 Days to Kill, we essentially get a slightly more grounded Taken, except Liam Neeson’s daughter isn’t taken – he just has to learn how to reconcile with his family.

This time, our assassin is the aptly-named Ethan Renner, taking his surname from one of the most boring action leads in film today – he’s played by film legend Kevin Costner, who’s trying to make a comeback between this, Man of Steel and the dire sports comedy Draft Day. Costner acquits himself well enough in the film, as he still has the same relaxed Midwestern charm that made him a star, but he has to work harder to hide his age. His voice is much growlier than it’s ever been, and the costumers work wonders trying to hide his old-man jowls with fashionable scarves and upturned collars. However, his haplessness works for the character, as he is perpetually trying to hold it together when he finds his apartment being squatted by a large African family, dealing with a degenerative brain disease and the effects of its treatment, and reconciling with his family.

3 Days to Kill tries on a lot of hats: it’s a Bourne-esque ticking clock spy thriller that’s also a contemplative family drama that’s also an understated daddy-daughter comedy. There’s bits of The Transporter, The Visitor, and National Lampoon’s European Vacation in the soup as well, but it never coalesces into a concrete whole. It leaves the movie feeling very atonal, as scenes where we titter at Costner’s over-the-top violent solutions to things are suddenly tempered by his daughter (played by Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld) facing an attempted gang rape. There’s a sweetness to many of the scenes, and it’s kinda nice to see how grounded this spy thriller attempts to be, but there’s just that bit of cohesion missing.

One of the biggest wildcards that sends the movie off the rails is Amber Heard’s ridiculous spy boss Vivi; she always crops up at the most inopportune times to exchange over the top spy dialogue with Costner, like she’s coming in from a completely different movie. The film implies that Vivi’s characterization is a bit of an act (the beginning scene shows her as-is, without the bleach-blonde wig and Black Widow leather getup), but that doesn’t make the presentation any less grating. She keeps wanting to be involved in the movie, but always stays in the periphery to remind you that you’re not just watching a Kevin Costner family movie – he has to spend a few minutes killing clichéd German bad guys. Her relationship to Costner is never clear, to a jarring extent; within minutes, the film has Costner rebel against her, only for her to go out of her way to help him at the very end. If she wasn’t in the picture, the film would have a much more cohesive backbone to it.

All in all, the good elements don’t really overcome the bad, and the film’s two-hour runtime feels sluggish as Costner and director McG (directing with less style and kineticism than I’ve ever seen in one of his films) put too much on their plate.

I will say this: One thing I think is pleasantly surprising/slightly disappointing (can’t decide) about 3 Days to Kill is that the title implies a ticking-clock action/peril situation, but it turns out to just be ”3 days to kill [time with his daughter in the second act]“.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It

3 Days To Kill Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever you hear a ‘boom’ in the soundtrack to punctuate dramatic moments
2) Drink any time someone says a character’s nickname (“The Wolf,” “The Albino,” “The Accountant,” etc.)
3) Drink every time Kevin Costner’s daughter’s ringtone is heard
Finish Your Drink When:
You hear one of the more awkward title drops in a film to date.

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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