‘The Legend of Hercules’ Review
In the late 1950s, American bodybuilder Steve Reeves somehow ended up in Italy and made a cheapo production of ‘Hercules.’ It spawned an avalanche of knockoff strongmen films — some starring Reeves, some featuring a rather malleable new character named Maciste — and are just wretched examples of boring cinema that, for whatever reason, I ended up seeing quite a bit of as a little kid. But to an 8-year-old back then, sub-Ray Harryhausen special effects and wafer-thin plots still managed to impress. Hey, it was a Sunday afternoon and a color TV.
It’s easy to say “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” but the spirit of these garbage movies is alive and well in Renny Harlin‘s charmingly awful ‘The Legend of Hercules.’ Starring Kellan Lutz as a block of concrete that has to fake the classic British accent (even though Hercules is Greek), this is boring by-the-numbers dross from the artless Millennium Films, best known for ‘The Expendables‘ films. It has maybe three good fight scenes and two moments that are so over-the-top bad you just have to laugh, and that makes for some undeniable entertainment. The best way to describe ‘The Legend of Hercules’ is as the fake movie that teenagers in movies go to see.
Ripping off more from ‘Gladiator’ and, frankly, the story of Christ than the typical Hercules myth (no “12 labors” here, though the Nemean Lion gets a shout out) Lutz, a big lump of hamburger that makes Taylor Kitsch look like Daniel Day-Lewis in the acting department, is the half-human, half-divine hero destined to restore balance to the kingdom.
Hercules’ mother (Roxanne McKee) prayed for impregnation from Zeus, who came to her as a sheet-billowing wind, as a way of getting back at the King (Scott Adkins) for being a warmongering jerk. Herc has an older half-brother, played by Liam Garrigan as something of a cross between Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Gladiator’ meets Mr. Bean. He’s a meanie, naturally, and he decides to bust in on his brother’s true love with the Princess of Crete played by Blondie McGee. (Blondie McGee’s actual name is Gaia Weiss. She doesn’t talk much in the film.)
Anyway, the King sends Hercules away to battle, double-crosses him, but he survives and returns as a gladiatorial champion. There are a few battles in the ring, but also a lot of standing on boats in front of a green screen while babbling about destiny. Someone in the row ahead of me started poking on their phone, and I had an good time reading his friend’s status updates.
The script has no interest in breaking new ground. In fact, it seems afraid to think too big, as that would involve building elaborate, cost-prohibitive sets. With the exception of the few minutes of fighting time, the entire enterprise is kept real spare. It’s as if you can hear the producers whispering “stall!” as the movie vamps to reach a 98-minute running time.
And yet – and yet – I kept thinking about being a dumb 8-year-old, half-watching, half-eating snacks, playing with the dog, sitting on the carpet while I should have been outside on a summer’s day. There’s a breezy quality to the inarticulateness of this film, intentionally so for the international market, that gives it a playful, innocent edge. There’s no blood, no nudity, just wall-to-wall bad acting (oh, Lutz’s shocked or sad reaction shots will make many a fine GIF) followed by a brief oasis of beat-downs. ‘The Legend of Hercules’ is, I can’t deny, a reasonably okay movie to put on in the background while you are doing something else.
‘The Legend of Hercules’ is in theaters now.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.