Monday, October 15, 2007

THE LAST LEGION: 'Swordplay' for Foreplay?

THE LAST LEGION (medieval adventure)

Cast: Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Aishwarya Rai, Kevin McKidd and Thomas Sangster
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Time: 103 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

(Pic: Aishwarya & Firth at 'foreplay')
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
For Malaysian audiences, the most compelling reason to watch "The Last Legion" is the eye-candy lure of Bollywood heartthrob Aishwarya Rai in its main cast. Aishwarya plays fearless Indian warrior Mira in this sword-and-sandal adventure set in AD 476. The much-touted 'introduction' scene of Aishwarya emerging dripping wet from the river turns out to be a bit of a washout, and fans should not expect any sequence of her prancing around the trees with lead star Colin Firth either.
Instead, we have the two lovers seemingly locked in a mock swordplay - a medieval version of foreplay to their inevitable bed romp in this 'pulp epic'. And while Aishwarya provides the much-needed distraction to the fighting sequences, Firth looks perpetually gloomy and dour, as if he had accidentally wandered into the "Last Legion" movie set from another "Bridget Jones"-type production. We can only hope that the producers docked a part of his salary for such conduct.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? "The Last Legion" is a 'rojak' (or hodgepodge) mix of Roman and Arthurian legends that must be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. It is about the young emperor, Romulus Augustus Caesar (Thomas Sangster), who is in dire need of protection from the vile, rampaging Goths led by Odoacer (Peter Mullan). Swearing allegiance - 'to the last breath', no less - to Romulus are Commander Aurelius (Firth) and the wise-cracking Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley), the boy's guardian and tutor.
A surprise attack by Odoacer's henchman Wulfila (Kevin McKidd of HBO's "Rome") puts the Roman legionnaires on the run, and they are joined by Mira, the maiden warrior from Constantinople who is initially disguised by a mail veil. Romulus' mission is to retrieve the sword of Julius Caesar (read: Excalibur) which is supposed to be the key to uniting Rome. After a twist or two in the plot, we find our heroes in Britannia where they must prepare for the climactic battle against the forces of Vortgyn (Harry Van Gorkum).

HITS & MISSES: Director Doug Lefler, a veteran of small-screen sword-and-sorcery efforts like "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess", seems unsure of what to do with a feature movie and his cast of accomplished stars. So he just alternates talking sequences with fighting scenes. Both are rather trite and clich├ęd. The fighting scenes are so badly done that they make those in HBO's "Rome" look like classic efforts. The one face-saving factor is that the movie does not take itself seriously. The story is narrated by Kingsley's Ambrosinus, who, we are told, is famous for making up tall tales. He also goes by many names, including 'Merlin' (get it?). Now, audiences have the right to expect proper action and stunt choreography - and what we get here is lame stuff.

THE LOWDOWN: Aishwarya notwithstanding, this one just makes us want to dig up our DVDs of "300" and "Gladiator" to satisfy our adrenaline cravings.

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