Pompeii: Tale told by an idiot

Directed by Paul W S Anderson 

"You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men. People bewailed their own fate ... and there were some who prayed for death."

Pliny the Younger's famous recounting of that fateful day when Mt Vesuvius blew its top opens Paul W S Anderson's historic disaster epic, but to be honest those words could equally be used to convey the experience of watching this potentially historically disastrous epic.

For two hours we're assaulted by a muddled morass of action-movie cliches, one-dimensional characters and predictable and perfunctory dialogue.

Starting out in Braveheart territory, the script from combined talents that gave us Batman Forever and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes quickly morphs into Gladiator before all but stealing the deckchairs out of Titanic as a young Celtic horse tribesman (Game of Throne's Kit Harrington) survives a massacre, vows revenge, fights for his life, attracts the attention of a public official's daughter (who just happens to be the object of his avowed enemy's affections) and then has to flee for his life when Old Smokey starts raining brimstone and fire on the Roman resort of Pompeii.

To be fair, some of the CGI work is quite impressive and Anderson (best known for directing his wife, Milla Jovovich, suspiciously absent here, in the Resident Evil series) certainly knows how to use an overhead shot for effect. But the endless fight scenes are dull and surprisingly bloodless, his reliance on slo-mo to create emotional impact is irritating and the art direction has one setting - apocalyptic gloom.

Casting also doesn't do Anderson any favours, with Harrington a bland hybrid of Kingdom of Heaven's Orlando Bloom, Troy's Eric Bana and our own Bret McKenzie, female lead Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) notable only for hair and makeup that accentuates her ears and Kiefer Sutherland (TV's 24) hamming it up mercilessly as the Billy Zane-in-Titanic-esque classed but classless villain of the piece.

Not only are they all out-emoted by their equine co-stars, they also sport a bevy of bizarre accents while delivering po-faced pronouncements ripe for parody (Sutherland's constant references to Emperor Titus end up sounding like a Monty Python's Life of Brian gag).

Throw in a soundtrack that is equal parts bombast and Enya-esque Celtic choral and it's a hellish recipe for entertainment, perhaps best summed up by Shakespeare's version of a scheming Scotsman, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."